Ward alive and well in Houston, Helping shape boys into men
Heisman winner comments on FSU, Ponder’s Heisman Candidacy and relationship with Tony Dungy
By Jerry Kutz
Florida State fans will be happy to learn that the Seminoles first Heisman Trophy winner is fulfilling lifelong dreams coaching high school football after a 15-year NBA basketball career.
“I’m living in Houston, Texas with my wife Tonja and our children Caleb and Hope,” Charlie Ward reports. “I’m the head football coach at Westbury Christian School, on the fundraising development team for our school and a husband and a father so I have a lot of duties,” he added with a laugh.
Ward is also in the process of putting a book together == an autobiography – in conjunction with the literary agent of former NFL head coach Tony Dungy who has become a trusted advisor.
So how did Charlie come to coach high school football at a small Christian school in Houston, Texas?
“Instinct,” Ward replied, “like my athletic ability.
“It is not that I did not have a plan when my NBA career came to an end but the way my life has been run since day one is that at the last minute God opens doors and I instinctively know what to do,” Ward explained.
As Ward’s playing career was coming to an end, Houston Rockets head coach Cal van Gundy offered him an opportunity as an assistant coach.
Earlier in Ward’s life he had pretty much dismissed the notion of coaching but with the door open, Ward instinctively reversed field and bolted through it like he did on that scintillating touchdown run that sealed #17’s Heisman Candidacy some 17 years ago.
“During my career, I thought I wasn’t a coach or wouldn’t be able to teach people the things I had been successful doing because I thought what had made me successful was talent and instinct,” Ward explained. “The more I got involved with coaching the more I saw all the things I had learned from my coaches – whether work effort, discipline or whatever – that took me over the top. And I started teaching young kids the same way.”
Charlie Ward grew up the son of a high school basketball coach in Thomasville, Georgia and the grandson of preachers on both sides of the family. There was a routine to life in the Ward Family that revolved around church, the local high school, his dad’s practice court and whatever sports Charlie and his younger brother Chad were playing.
It was a lifestyle his mother Willard cherished and that Charlie embraced.
So it is not surprising that coaching high school sports, where you mold men, would become his point of reference as a career, as a husband and as a father and it is not at all surprising that it would be a Christian high school considering his family upbringing. Ward’s little brother is now the assistant boys basketball coach and girls track coach at the very high school where their father had served for so many years.
“The fruit doesn’t land far from the tree so my brother and I followed in my dad’s footsteps,” Ward said. “My father was a good role model.”
Being a good role model is important to the Charlie and Tanja who plan to adopt a two-year old child son.
While Ward credits Van Gundy for opening the first door to coaching, he credits a higher power for opening the second at Westbury Christian High School. “God gave me a great opportunity to mold kids at the high school level,” said Ward. “I prefer to mold men than coach grown men.”
“The opportunity for me and for our school was in football,” he explained. “We had a great basketball coach but our football team was suffering. We were 0-10 as a football team my first year as an assistant. Now that I am back in football I don’t do anything with basketball other than watch it.”
After that rocky 0-10 season, Ward was named head coach and has managed a .500 winning percent during the first two-years of his rebuilding plan.
“What I have seen thus far is just being credible in my career, my lifestyle, my conviction and my family,” Ward said. “The players are going to listen to someone who is not their parents who is in an influential role. Being able to relate to the kids in all aspects is important. A lot of my players want to go to the next level, so being there to give them advice is important to them. Not everyone can become a Division 1 football player but everyone can work toward it. If they don’t get recruited by a Division 1 school at least they can feel satisfied with their effort and they can go to a school at another level. I can impart some wisdom about the challenges I faced in high school, in college or in the NBA and impart some wisdom about the triumphs too.”
With a small athletic budget, Ward serves as both head coach and offensive coordinator. Not surprisingly, his offense looks a lot like the offense Florida State ran in 1992 and 1993. FSU fans are probably wondering just how Charlie Ward can call plays without a Charlie Ward at quarterback.
Ward credits his quarterback coach Mark Richt for a lot of what he is now teaching and credits both Richt and Bobby Bowden for teaching him how to become a head coach. He also is appreciative of all the help he’s received from FSU’s new head coach Jimbo Fisher.
“It is helpful to my players to be able to pick up the phone and be able to call coaches about the evaluation process so my kids can understand what college coaches are looking for,” Ward said.
He also credits former NFL head coach Tony Dungy who he met in Tampa Bay while visiting his former FSU roommate Warrick Dunn.
“We had been 0-10 and headed in the wrong direction and knew he had the same sort of situation at Tampa Bay when he arrived,” Ward said. “I tried to duplicate what he did within the budget I had here. I went out and raised some money to get our football ministry started. I worked with the players to get their heads turned around. We are in our third year and have made some headway in that area.
“People say our lifestyles and mannerisms are very similar in a lot of ways. When we were looking for someone to help us get (our capital campaign for an athletic compex) started, I asked him if he would participate. I feel honored because he has turned down a lot of other offers. I felt good that when he was an assistant and was going to become a head coach he was willing to make me a first round pick. While that didn’t happen, I am honored that he felt that way about me then and now that he allows me to continue to pick his brain about the direction I am taking later in my life.”
Ponder’s Heisman Candidacy
We’d be remiss if we didn’t ask the former Heisman winner about Christian Ponder’s upcoming Heisman Campaign season. Ward has had the opportunity to watch Christian on television and in person and to talk to Coach Fisher about the Seminoles starting quarterback. He has also had the opportunity to spend some time with Ponder at his quarterback camp last summer.
Ward is impressed with Ponder both as a quarterback and as a man.
“It has been a long time since we have had someone nominated for a Heisman so it is a great time for our program,” Ward replied. “Christian is a great kid to be nominated. He’s a great athlete and smart which is an unusual combination. A lot of times you get one or the other but with him you get both, someone who is smart enough not to try to over think things."
“He is like I was in that he doesn’t make a big deal out of it.”
So what does Ward think Ponder needs to do this year to win the coveted award
“He needs to bring his best game each and every week and he needs his teammates to bring theirs too. If it is God’s will that he be in New York as a finalist that’s great because it means we’ve had a great year too. I know his ultimate goal is not the Heisman but to win a national championship. He’s prepared and worked very hard, I hear, to make that a reality. He is definitely a leader. I have only heard great things about him He’s a great kid from a great family.”
So, Seminole fans, is there any part of Charlie Ward that longs to coach college quarterbacks and specifically at his alma mater?
After a long pause, uncharacteristic of Ward’s field presence but customary in an interview, Ward said this: “I have aspirations but no time soon. I have a 10-year old, a 7-year old and will have a two-year old soon. Coaching at the college level requires a lot of time and that is not conducive to the family structure I want. Once my kids begin to graduate, God willing, I would like to coach at the college level. When I have kids from our football ministry going on to the Division 1 level and succeeding as players and more importantly as people then I may be ready.”
Ward laughed at himself and then said, “A long winded answer to say I am not ready now but it is a goal and a dream.”
And a sentiment consistent with generations of Ward Family values.