Mercer County officials say they “cashed in big” with the hiring of Chris Pardue as the Titans’ new football coach.
Pardue certainly is a familiar face to area football fans because he spent 16 years at Boyle County — 13 as an assistant under Chuck Smith and three as the head coach after Smith left for Kentucky following a run of six straight championship game appearances.
Pardue was 22-15 in three seasons as Boyle’s head coach. His first team went 11-2 in 2005 and lost in the second round of the playoffs to Bullitt East, 35-33. The Rebels started 1-5 in 2006 and finished 6-6 with an 18-9 first-round playoff loss to Southwestern. In 2007, Boyle lost its first five games and finished 5-7 with a 41-12 first-round playoff loss to Lexington Catholic.
The veteran coach, who was also at Allen County-Scottsville for eight years, left Boyle after the 2007 season and has been offensive coordinator at Campbellsville University the last for four years and helped revive that NAIA program.
“This gets me back close to home,” said Pardue, who has continued to live in Perryville while working in Campbellsville. “Plus, I always loved high school football. Once you have been in the high school game, it gets in your blood. I always knew I wanted back in high school coaching. I wasn’t looking for anything, but the job opened and the opportunity just came along.”
However, he has work ahead of him. Mercer has not had a winning season since 2006, when the Titans went 15-0 under coach Marty Jaggers and won a Class AA championship after the Mercer and Harrodsburg school systems merged.
Jaggers went 5-7 and 6-6 in his final two seasons before Bill Mason took over and went 1-10 and 3-8 in two years. Last season brough Paul Rains to Mercer as head coach, and he left for Letcher County Central after a 5-7 season. That’s 9-25 in the last three years and 20-38 in five years since the championship.
Mercer school officials said they would have no comment on Pardue’s hiring, something that seems more than a bit perplexing after proclaiming the school “cashed in big” on a coach they will not comment about. However, Smith had plenty to say about his former assistant, who served as offensive coordinator for the Kentucky all-star team four times during the Kentucky-Tennessee series.
“I think Mercer hit the jackpot with him. They could not have hired a better person,” said Smith, who was in Florida on Wednesday on a recruiting trip. “He is an extremely hard worker, outstanding football coach and a great person.”
Pardue believes in a wide-open offense, and the Titans obviously will be throwing the ball more next season.
“We want to get our skilled kids in the open field with the ball and don’t care how we do it. We’ll take what the defense gives us,” he said.
“He is an outstanding offensive coach,” Smith said. “I turned the offense completely over to him at Boyle. I never had to worry about it. He took care of all of that. I think our record and results speak for what kind of job he did.”
Pardue was also with Smith at Allen, and Smith says his prior head coaching experience at Boyle will help him at Mercer. He also says those who judge Pardue’s coaching expertise based on his head coaching record at Boyle are making a big mistake.
“I think what happened to him at Boyle was not a fair evaluation of his head coaching ability,” said Smith, who started his coaching career as an assistant coach at Mercer under Larry French. “We were up so long and then Boyle just had a cycle out of some talent. It went down, but it would have went down whoever the head coach was.
“He has been wanting to be a head coach again, and I don’t think Mercer could have done any better than hiring him. He will do a good job for them.”
Pardue insisted he has no burning desire to show that his record at Boyle was misleading.
“I don’t worry about stuff like that. I enjoyed every minute at Boyle County. I had good kids and it is a good program,” he said. “I just got another great opportunity to coach college football where I got to work with different staffs and learn different philosophies. At Boyle, I made mistakes and learned from them, and I’ve kept learning from every coach I have been around.”
He’s not sure about his staff — he meets with Mercer’s coaches today.
“I have a great administration to work with if we have openings. There are some people I would like to get here on my staff, but guys on the staff already are great coaches and I look forward to working with them,” Pardue said.
Smith laughed when asked if playing in the same district with Boyle and Lexington Catholic will make Pardue’s task too difficult.
“It is a tough district, but that’s the same thing a lot of people said about the district we were in at Boyle when we got there,” he said. “They all said it would be an uphill battle and would be too hard to overcome, but we proved them wrong, and Chris was a big part of that.”
Pardue remembers Boyle had to elevate its program to the status of Danville’s championship program. Now he says Mercer has to do the same to catch Boyle and Lexington Catholic.
“The common denominator is that Danville set the bar high and now Lexington Catholic and Boyle have set the bar high. We have a clear understanding of what to shoot for and how to get there,” he said.
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The public is invited to meet Pardue at 6 p.m. Monday in the Mercer auditorium.