Charlie Ward is likely the only person in history that could have made in impact in every single major American sport (with the exception of the NHL) and also have a love for tennis. The Thomasville, Georgia native was drafted by teams in the NBA and Major League Baseball after a great college career at Florida State. His time there featured a Heisman Trophy and national title in football and trips to the NCAA tournament in 1991, 1992, and 1993, (including a trip to the second round in 1991, to the Sweet 16 in 1992 and to the Elite 8 in 1993) in basketball.
In his Heisman season of 1993, Ward completed 264-380 passes (69.5 %), threw for 3,032 yards, 27 touchdowns and just 4 interceptions. For his career at FSU, he threw for 5, 679 yards and 49 touchdowns. He holds the second largest margin of victory margin in voting point for the trophy behind O.J. Simpson. When he left Florida State, he held basketball records for steals in a game (9), career steals with 236 and ranked sixth all-time in assists with 396.
He also took part of the 1994 Arthur Ashe Amateur Tennis Tournament. Unwilling to play in the NFL if he wasn’t selected in the first round, Ward instead chose to play for the New York Knicks…who drafted him with the 26th pick of the first round in the1994 NBA Draft (also drafted by the New York Yankees in 1994 as a pitcher).
Today he is the head football coach at Westbury Christian School in Houston, hoping to pass down some wisdom he’s gained from his sporting endeavors over the years to a new generation of players.
Sean Mitchell: What was your favorite sport to play?
Charlie Ward: I didn’t have a favorite sport. I enjoyed playing them all. The reason why I continued to play multiple sports in college was because I enjoyed playing both football and basketball.
SM: How big of an honor was it to be named ESPN/ABC’s #1 qb of the 20th century?
As good as it gets
CW: It’s always very good to be recognized for something that you went out and accomplished in the past. When I was going through it that wasn’t the reason why I was doing what I did, but the to be remembered for my accomplishments in college I’m grateful.
SM: When you first arrived in Tallahassee, could you have envisioned going from winning the Heisman to playing in the NBA? Seems like an odd transition even though you did played basketball at the time.
CW: When I first got there, my vision wasn’t that far. Those are dreams that you want to reach it one day but I never thought it would happen that way. I really had to focus on giving myself an opportunity to be in that position to play professionally if that was the case, through God’s will.
But I also wanted to make sure I did my part by going to class and doing my best in the classroom and on the field and also preparing myself for the community and doing community outreach plus a whole lot of different things to help me prepare for the opportunity to play in the NFL or NBA.
SM: How’d it feel to lose Wide Right II? Is there a curse for FSU kickers?
CW: No there’s no curse, it’s just unfortunate that our kickers always miss right or left. We’ve been blessed to win two national championships since that time and had some great years. It all comes around and in the long run we’ve had some great kickers who have gone on to do some good things in the NFL and in life in general. So that’s part of being in sports.
SM: What was your favorite experience with the Knicks?
CW: It’s hard to have a favorite but we had some great years and having the opportunity to play in the Finals was one of the highlights of [my career]. That was a great experience for me personally and for the team. We never won a championship but came close twice in that era that I can remember and I was part of one of them. But sometimes it doesn’t happen that way. It was a great blessing to be apart of that team.
SM: During the NBA Lockout season, what did you think of your then-teammate Patrick Ewing’s quote “NBA players make a lot of money, but they spend a lot of money?”
CW: I wouldn’t say it’s super funny. It’s accurate when you’re talking about the percentage for those players, which is true for the percentage anyone spends.
SM: What player in the league today reminds you most of yourself? Along the same lines is there a college QB that reminds you of yourself?
CW: I guess you can say Derek Fisher–his mental toughness and going about his business without all the flair. He’s on a great team and he makes plays for his team. And he just continues to stick around, he’s not the superstar but he’s an integral part of what they do. I don’t have the championships he has but he reminds me of the things that I did for our team. I wasn’t the superstar player but I was there to be able to fit in and be apart of what we did as a team.
QB wise, I’m not sure.
Fish, like Ward, is steady
SM: Who’s the best player you ever played with in any sport?
CW: Best player? It’s hard to choose one. I’ve played with a lot of great players, from Warrick Dunn to Derrick Brooks, Patrick Ewing, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, to Ewing, Larry Johnson, Allan Houston, he list can go on and. So I played with some very, very good players in my careers, both college and the pros. Sam Cassell, Bob Sura–both of those guys for basketball in college. I had great teammates and great experience playing with those guys.
SM: What’s the best thing about the aWard Foundation?
CW: The aWard Foundation is no longer around. We used the aWard Foundation to help fund our basketball camps and bring kids to camp that weren’t normally able to afford to come to camp. So that was our main focus, it was an outreach for our basketball camp. Plus it was a Christian camp for those who wanted to play basketball and learn more about their relationship with Jesus Christ, so we used the camp to do that. That was mainly the outreach that we tried to do with.
SM: I’m gonna bring up a couple quotes of yours:
“I’ve always been the coach on the team; all my teams, … Point guard, quarterback … regardless I was a player-coach.”
“It’s a transition from playing to coaching, but I still get an opportunity to be around the guys and be able to impart wisdom, … I could have tried it, but it’s a good career move.”
How natural of a transition was if for you to go from playing to coaching?
CW: It was a natural fit, from what I’ve been doing and accomplishing on the floor and now trying to share it with others and to be able to help them be successful. And it’s not just about on the floor type stuff, it’s about learning experiences in my life and things that I struggled with and to be able to help guys fight through that or not go down that road. Just like anything else you may have learned a lot but when you are the one that’s working on the floor–say we’re at a factory–and you have some great experience but now you become the manager of the factory.
Could you imagine learning the game from a Heisman Trophy winner?
[Coaching is] a different experience but you do have some experience doing what you did, so it’s similar to that. So there’s some growing and things you have to learn and other things that I’m going through right now as a young coach. I’m learning from others and trying to transfer that to our top players. It’s part of the growing process but there are a lot of things that I can share with the guys–experiences and those type of things- that can be helpful.
SM: Who do you have going to the Finals and who will win it all?
CW: I like San Antonio, just because I played there. I know most of the older guys from when I played there. But the Lakers are of course the team to be. And Cleveland has a pretty good squad but you can’t count out Orlando so I don’t know–Cleveland has the upper hand in the East, so if I had to choose a team, you would have to go with the Lakers but I’d really like to see San Antonio win. I think Cleveland may take it all. I’d like to see [the Lakers] give somebody else a chance to win.
SM:Yes because the Lakers do have 15 titles.
CW: Yes they do have a lot of championship.
SM: Well, thanks I appreciate your time.
CW: No problem Sean.