If the initial reaction is any indication, Washington’s hiring of former Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward as its new head football coach was a huge step in the right direction to rebuilding a once-proud program.
Nearly 150 current and prospective football players sat attentively in the Washington High auditorium on Friday as Ward addressed his new players for the first time since being hired in January.
Ward’s message to the student-athletes was pretty simple.
“It was more about just setting the tone and attitude of what it’s going to take for us to be successful,” Ward said. “It’s all about coaches treating the players with respect, players treating the coaches, teachers and adults with respect and treating one another with respect. We’re all going to be in it together.
“Our attitude plays a part in how that goes. If it’s a good attitude, it spreads, that’s contagious. If it’s a bad attitude, that’s contagious as well. We try to get those spoiled apples out of the bucket, try to rehab them first, but if they keep spoiling, you have to get them out of the bucket. Our goal is to love on kids, and hopefully, that’s what they heard today is to love on them.”
Initially, Ward wasn’t sure it would work out when he was approached by former FSU teammate and Washington graduate Derrick Brooks about the job opening. Ward, who was coaching at Westbury Christian in Houston at the time, was looking to move his family closer to his college town of Tallahassee and his hometown Thomasville, Ga., which is a short drive from Tallahassee.
“I told him at the beginning that I didn’t think it was going to work,” Ward said. “I didn’t think my wife would be on board with moving because she has a great job, which we’re now looking for a job for her here in Christian radio.
“When I talked to her about the opportunities that I may have, she told me to have an open mind. That’s when I came back and told him I’d look into it. She said have an open mind, and we’re here.”
Once Ward got the green light from his wife, he applied for the job, subsequently interviewed over the phone and then visited Washington for another interview.
“It’s always good to be able to see what you are getting into,” Ward said of his trip to Pensacola. “You’re not going to know all that you’re getting into until you get here. One thing I do know is having support in anything, whatever job it may be, it gives you an opportunity to be successful. I was drawn to all the support, not just here at Washington, but also the community.
“I did an interview via phone and the second one I came down to see what I was looking at — people, facilities. I got a chance to talk to a few kids. That was very, very helpful because the kids I talked to are wanting to be successful and have structure and discipline. You just saw the thirst in their eyes and hunger to be successful. They at least want to have the taste of what it’s like to have a chance to win games.”
One of the questions Ward was asked during Friday’s meeting with the players was his offensive and defensive philosophy. Being a product of a spread offense at Florida State, Ward said he leans toward that offense, but did admit that Washington’s style of play largely will depend on personnel.
“I think from an offensive standpoint, you have to be flexible within your system,” Ward said. “Everything can be the same in that system, but you have to be diverse or multiple.
“If you come in and try to be a spread team and your quarterback can’t run it, throw it or whatever the case may be, you have to reign that in. It’s all about fitting the scheme. We have athletes here, and fitting the scheme to better suit our athletes is what’s important.”
Friday’s response was encouraging for Ward, but he said he wants to make sure the strength in numbers is from a quality standpoint.
“I’m not a big numbers guy,” Ward said. “I’m more so about the quality as opposed to the quantity. Quality will far outweigh quantity in the long run. When you are having to deal with 10 or 20 kids that may not want to be out there, the attitude’s not right, that drags everyone down.
“But if you have 70-80 kids that are willing to do whatever the coach is asking them to do, without having any attitude, I’d rather 80 of those guys as opposed to 120 guys and you have 20 guys that don’t want to do the right thing over and over. We’re willing to work with whoever comes out and help them to see the benefit of our program.”
Obviously, Ward’s name commands a little bit of clout, especially in a community so close to Florida State, where Ward made a name for himself as a standout football and basketball player. Because of that, he hasn’t had a shortage of community members offering their help in bringing the Washington program back on track.
“After next year, I hope it’s still exciting (for the community),” Ward said with a chuckle. “The community, there are a lot of FSU alumni here and also a lot of Washington alumni here, as well. Your history, your name, the track record, all of that plays a big part in the way people respond to you. I haven’t been arrested. No DUIs.
“I have a good name, thus far, and Lord willing it stays that way. People want to support good. That’s something my parents instilled in me. And that’s something I hope to do the same for these students here.”