By now, Steelers fans are recovering somewhat from the news that Hines Ward chose to retire from the NFL in order to do so as a Pittsburgh Steelers player. In a moving tribute, Steelers fans sent Ward numerous personal messages via Facebook and other media. Cian Fahey wrote a very moving piece about the type of player Ward was. Even Dave Bryan here at Steelers Depot wrote a piece about the way that Ward impacted the Steelers as a player and the NFL overall. It is difficult to imagine no #86 jersey with Ward\’s name on the back this season. One thing I will always admire about Ward was his level of leadership, and with rumors about him moving to a coaching job, the idea should be addressed.
According to an online report, Ward spent time Tuesday at the University of Georgia where he played his college ball. Coaching rumors have been a flurry for Ward (including high school jobs) that didn\’t come to fruition, but Ward reportedly spent the day working with the coaching staff. The Bulldogs reported that Ward will spend time with the team.
‘He’s going to spend some time over here, a couple of days to see what all we do. Not just out there in practice, but to see, hey, what do you do out there in recruiting, kind of see if that’s something he wants to do, kind of like when coaches come and visit.’ – Mike Bobo
Ward\’s official website didn\’t allude to his activities or verify that he has chosen to take on any coaching duties at Georgia. He hasn\’t said anything on Twitter or on Facebook either. Whether or not Ward does decide to coach in the future, he has the leadership necessary to perform that job well.
As a journalist, I had the rare opportunity to nominate Ward as a candidate for The Presidential Citizens Medal. The award recognizes individuals for “exemplary deeds of service for their country or their fellow citizens.” Called the “happiest man in football” by President Barack Obama, Ward has shown over the years that even though he\’s a great player, he is also a great individual. Considered one of the best blocking wide receivers in the NFL, Ward\’s records can speak for themselves. On April 14, 2006, ABC did a story on Ward, calling him their \’Person of the Week\’. During the interview, Ward spoke about his early life and how he came to understand the sacrifices his mother made for him. In 2006, Ward visited his former homeland of South Korea and began a mission of mercy that lasted for nearly two months. On May 5, 2010, Ward was called upon to become an ambassador to multi-cultural children in the home of U.S. Ambassador to Korea, Kathleen Stephens. On April 7, 2011, Ward was awarded the 38th Annual Art Rooney Award. Art Rooney II presented the award to Ward and said of him,
\’Hines certainly has been someone who has represented the Steelers organization in the way we want to be represented. He\’s a quintessential Steelers, and he\’s been somebody who has used his place in life to help others. That\’s always been part of the consideration to receiving this award. Hines has been an outstanding player for us and an outstanding citizen, and so it\’s great that he is able to accept this award.\’
Although Ward wasn\’t a finalist for The Presidential Citizens Medal at the time, his life story is one that many have only heard bits and pieces of. The fact that he could be such an instrumental leader in the community and internationally speaks to his character.
During training camp in 2011 at St. Vincent\’s, Ward was often seen giving advice and help to young players as he always has throughout his career. Ward started camp on the PUP list as he was still recovering from offseason surgery to repair torn ligaments in his left thumb. Although he wasn\’t able to practice early in training camp, he was highly active on the field. He could be seen guiding young receivers like Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown daily. Many players have given Ward props for being more than the man with a million dollar smile because of the level of intensity, understanding of the game and willingness to support other players.
Ward began as a quarterback and then transitioned to receiver in college. The fact that he has such a deep understanding of the game of football would be an asset to any team that happened to talk him into coaching with them. I am sure the Bulldogs at Georgia would love to have Ward at practice showing them how to improve their route running, pass blocking and ability to get separation from defensive backs on a daily basis.
Some have said that Ward is washed up, but you can\’t wash out leadership skills. If I ran a football team, I\’d love to have such a successful, highly-driven and intense former NFL player and future Hall-of-Famer give it a lift. And I know he\’d be smiling every time a young player ran a route after hitting a defensive back at the line to make a great catch and run the length of the field.