McKeesport's Ward steps down
It's said that it's hard to follow in a legend's footsteps.
Jim Ward found it quite easy.
Thirty-four months after 28-year veteran McKeesport football coach George Smith suddenly resigned, Ward followed suit Thursday by doing the same thing.
Despite being assured of returning for a fourth season, Ward stunned the school district by resigning what he had called a “dream job” just a few years back.
“I was uncomfortable with some of the circumstances moving forward in preparation for next season,” Ward said. “I definitely felt wanted by a number of people, and I definitely felt not wanted by a number of people.”
Ward, who is the assistant to the director of career and technical education at the high school, was told right before Thanksgiving that he would be back for another year. McKeesport Area School District has a longstanding policy of opening all coaching jobs after the season but, for the most part, it is just a formality.
Ward would not say if anything happened between then and when he handed in his resignation Thursday other than to say that it was because of personal reasons.
“It is something that has been on my mind since the end of the season,” Ward said. “I felt like this was the right time. It is something that has been through my mind before. I was hoping it was going to work out, and it didn't so I had to walk away.”
However, on Thursday morning, McKeesport school director Chris Halaszynski posted on Facebook that the “head coach position for the McKeesport varsity football team is now officially open.” The post did not disclose that Ward had resigned.
In his post, Halaszynski said he is “very excited” for the change. The post was liked by more than 20 others and included comments about the search for a successor.
Halaszynski's responses included that the search would be “open and extensive,” and he hopes it will be “done the right way this time.”
The superintendent's office said they would have no comment at this time.
McKeesport athletic director Charley Kiss declined comment on Ward as well, however, Kiss did say that the district will commence an immediate search for a replacement.
“Moving forward in the weeks to come it is the responsibility of the school district to conduct a thorough, transparent search for a new coach to best meet the needs of our kids,” Kiss said.
The resignation will likely be approved at next week's school board meeting.
Ward leaves with a 19-11 record in three years, including 15-5 in conference play. Ward took the job in 2010 after three years at South Allegheny and one year at Yough. His teams went a combined 6-34.
McKeesport has made 15 consecutive trips to the WPIAL playoffs and 17 overall since 1993. Since the start of the 2004 season and until Ward arrived, the Tigers were 56-16.
Under Ward, the Tigers advanced to the playoffs all three years, and lost in the first round each season — none of which were more disheartening than his first year when his team went 8-1 but lost in the first round of the playoffs.
McKeesport went 5-5 this year with a first-round playoff loss to Bethel Park. The Tigers return 18 starters next year from that team.
“I felt that this was the right time and early enough for McKeesport to seek a quality candidate,” said Ward, who in his three years helped 19 players get some form of football scholarship. “It is a great group of kids, and I wish them great success.”
Ward has been an assistant at Clairton and Jeannette. He wants to return to coaching at some point, he said.
“Coaching is in my blood and at some point, I will want to coach again,” Ward said. “Whether that is tomorrow or a couple years from now, I don't know. I am going to let the dust settle from this and kind of see where this takes me.”
Staff writer Jennifer R. Vertullo contributed. Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.