Ward disputes Hall of Famer Smith's comments

| Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, 9:12 p.m.

The last thing Jim Ward wants to do is come off as bitter and combative, but the former McKeesport football coach feels obligated to defend himself.

McKeesport rehired 28-year veteran and Hall of Fame coach George Smith Wednesday to replace Ward, who resigned in December.

Following the school board's unanimous decision to bring him back after a three-year layoff, Smith said he felt the “program wasn't moving in the right direction” and that he was “disappointed on the way things have gone” since he left as reasons why he agreed to return.

Ward took offense to both of those statements.

“I thought it was an unfair and inaccurate depiction of what we did here,” said Ward, who is employed by the McKeesport Area School District as the assistant to the director of career and technical education. “Our kids played very hard and I am proud of them. I am proud of what I am handing George Smith. I wish I was handing him a state title team but there were a lot of good things done during my tenure that I feel good about.”

Under Ward, the Tigers advanced to the playoffs all three years, while going 19-11 overall, including 15-5 in conference play. McKeesport won the Quad East title in 2010 by going 8-1 during the regular season, but lost in the first round of the playoffs to Bethel Park. Ward was 0-3 in playoff games.

While the record was good, it wasn't what McKeesport was used to seeing. The six years before Ward took over at McKeesport, the Tigers won a WPIAL title, a state title and had an overall record of 56-16.

But, according to Ward, he feels he did much more for the program than can be defined by wins and losses.

• Helped 19 players in three years get football scholarships.

• Improved academics among the players.

• Improved the weight room program.

• Led the school to three home playoff games.

“There were some things that we accomplished here that we were proud of,” Ward said. “We have improved tremendously academically, for one. George is getting some great kids. They are hard-working, accountable kids.”

Ward also addressed the issue of having only 40 kids dress for a Quad-A school along with the dwindling participation with the middle school programs.

“Sometimes we dressed 40-42 kids, but we had 10-12 kids on the sidelines with injuries of some sort or just not able to dress,” Ward said. “When I took over there were only 15 kids in the freshman class that are now seniors. We just had a small senior class is why the numbers were a little lower. As for the middle school kids, you always want more and more kids but I didn't see any issue relative to participation.”

McKeesport's seventh- and eighth-grade teams went undefeated in the section.

School board director Christopher Halaszynski said Wednesday that he was concerned about the lack of people supporting the team, especially at home games.

“Of course you want to sell the stadium out, but overall our attendance was OK,” Ward said. “You wish it would be better but people tend to show up more when you are undefeated rather than 5-5.”

Ward, who says he would like to be a head coach again, feels he is handing Smith a solid and experienced group of 18 returning lettermen — nine of whom were sophomores or freshmen last year.

“George Smith is an outstanding coach who is going to do a great job, and the kids are in great hands,” Ward said. “I am sure he will do as well as he did before. I believe all things are in place for them to compete for a championship next year. I hope for their success not only for next year but after that. I wish the program well.”

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mkaboly@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib

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