Chris Cate: Welcome to the Fluent In Floridian Podcast, featuring the sunshine state's brightest leaders talking about the issues most important to the people of Florida and it's millions of weekly visitors. I'm your host Chris Cate, and this episode is created by Salter Mitchell PR. Our guest is Heisman Trophy winner Florida State National Champ and former New York Knicks point guard Charlie Ward. In our conversation, we talk about his two sport stardom at Florida State, and how he chose what he would play professionally.
Chris Cate: We also talk about playing for Bobby Bowden with Warrick Dunn, and against rivals Miami and Florida. We also discuss his return to Tallahassee to coach high school basketball. And you can hear it all right now.
Chris Cate: Charlie thanks so much for being on the show. For our listeners who can't see us, we're doing this interview in Tallahassee at Florida High, where you're the new boys basketball coach. What's it like returning to Tallahassee, the city where you really became a sports legend?
Charlie Ward: Well I'm definitely looking forward to being back here in Tallahassee kind of where it all started, my collegiate days, and from a national standpoint. So definitely looking forward to being back. A lot of friendly faces, supportive faces and also being around the FSU, which is kind of where it all started in my college days. It's an opportunity for me to continue to develop and grow as a person, as a coach and I know my family, it's definitely a great blessing for us as well to be back here in Tallahassee, with a lot of supportive people and to be close to my home in Thomasville.
Chris Cate: Yeah, you grew up in Thomasville, which is a very short drive from here. How much did that play a role in your decision to come back to Tallahassee?
Charlie Ward: Well, I mean we eventually wanted to come back to be closer to family at some point in time, after our professional career. So, it was something we wanted to do. We made a pit stop in Pensacola before we came back and made it here to Tallahassee. Opportunities here were much greater, with the university and also the opportunity here which just happened to open a door for that. And it's also a good spot for our kids, my wife. This is kind of where she started as well after her days of law school at UM. So we have a lot of good ties here.
Chris Cate: I read that your Heisman Trophy is actually on display at the library in Thomasville in the children's section. Why did you choose a location like that?
Charlie Ward: Well I guess it was a couple things. I really wanted for people to be able to have an opportunity to see it, and one of the best ways for not just friends and family that come over to my mom and dad's house or my house, It would be a better attraction for more people to see if it was in a public setting. So, my mom's a librarian and one of the places we thought may be good. And they have a new library going up at the time in Thomasville, and so it was a good place to put it for people to go and see it whenever they came through town. So that's been something that people have come ... when they come through Thomasville, that's one of the stops.
Chris Cate: People know you as a football and basketball star, but you also play tennis, and you were drafted to play Major League Baseball. How busy were you playing all these sports growing up?
Charlie Ward: Well of course, they all didn't happen at the same time. But my whole, God blessed me with athletic ability, hand-eye coordination, and so all the things that had to do with ball, whether it was tennis or with baseball, it came relatively easy. But we also worked at it. We placed all those sports growing up in the street, back yard, wherever.
Charlie Ward: So I was an athlete. You know, I have a book out, essentially just kind of talk about being an athlete, but you know, I was just an athlete that enjoyed being an athlete. I wanted to be a professional in elementary school, where I could just play sports all the time. But of course, you have to go to school to be able to play sports. So it was something I enjoyed doing. So it wasn't like a big thing. I think even if they did stack on top of one another, I'd just enjoy playing.
Chris Cate: It seems like many coaches nowadays are pressuring kids to specialize in one sport, then just play it year round. What are your thoughts on that strategy in youth sports?
Charlie Ward: Well of course, I was blessed, like I said, I have athletic ability and talent to play multiple sports. A lot of times it just came easy. If I pro would have focused on football or basketball, I probably could've done much better in a sense. But I just enjoy playing, like I say, all the sports. And I think for some of the kids, they have the ability to play multiple sports, meaning two, three and sometimes four sports. They do have that ability, because they just pick up things easy. They may not be the best at probably two, three or four sports, just because their playing a lot and didn't have time to train for those sports. But some kids may need to play one sport year round, so they can perfect their craft or whatever they may want to do.
Charlie Ward: But I was encouraged playing two sports, even if you feel like you're behind, and if you have a major sport, you should have a minor sport just to break the monotony of the same regimen, using the same muscles, and those types of things.
Chris Cate: Did Coach Bowden ever give you a hard time about playing basketball?
Charlie Ward: No, because he knew it was one of my desires, and let me do it once I got to school, and during the recruiting process, and he didn't give me a hard time. After my first year of playing basketball that we won the metro championship, we did, we won the metro championship, so he was hoping we would get that at football, as we were able to do three years later.
Charlie Ward: It was, I think after that time, I think he was sold that it was okay.
Chris Cate: Did you use athletes like Bo Jackson as a comparison or kind of role model of, you know, this is possible for me to continue. Because I imagine there were people trying to discourage you to play multiple sports.
Charlie Ward: Where in high school? Or college?
Chris Cate: I'm thinking of college.
Charlie Ward: No. I had my mind made up that I was going to play both sports because I enjoyed playing both sports. My first year I was the punter, I wanted a punting job. They told me I needed to go out and get one spring game, one football spring game. So I did that. And then the next year I was red shirted and so they allowed me to go out and play basketball full time once basketball started. I enjoyed it so much that first year, that it was going to be something I wanted to do, because I had some success. So I just continued throughout the rest of my college days playing both sports and no one discouraged me, because they saw the success that I had, which I'm grateful that coach let me go out full time, which kind of helped me. Basketball is a sport I just did naturally, and a lot of things I did was not something I worked on a lot, because I didn't have time to do it. But it just became natural. Whether it was anticipation, stealing balls defensively, passing, those are the things that I focused on and did well, and so that's where I was able to make it through four years of playing basketball and not having to focus on it full time.
Chris Cate: When you were at FSU, it was one of the most intense times in the rivalry between UF, FSU and Miami. Do you have a story to describe just what that rivalry was like at the time?
Charlie Ward: I would say it's different, but I believe from a competitive standpoint, because a lot of the guys that were playing on those teams, I played against a few of them in the Georgia Florida game, Allstar Game, I'm coming into college. A lot of my teammates played against or with some of the guys from those schools. So when it came down to us just competing, I mean it was more bragging rights than anything goes. So we kind of were born into the rivalry in a sense, with everyone else. Florida was a little bit closer, so they were on the back end, Miami was normally on the front or the middle part of our season.
Charlie Ward: One of our goals was to win the state championship, beat Miami and Florida, and gives an opportunity at least we knew to give us a chance to win a national championship, because if we can beat those two teams we will have a chance. I know two of my years that I played, we were able to beat Miami my senior year, we lost to them my junior year, which that was our only loss, which kept us out. We ended up playing for the national championship that year. So the rivalry was always intense, even from the fan's perspective. But they were always fun to compete in.
Chris Cate: Do year-old have a favorite moments from any of those games against Miami or UF?
Charlie Ward: I guess my most favorite moment was when we beat UF down in the swamp. [inaudible 00:11:37] two in three game winning streak at the time, and we were just ... it was the last game, and we were in the midst of trying to clinch a spot in the national championship game, so we were going in working to get to that spot. I guess one of the biggest moments would be when they made their comeback. There was six point difference in the fourth quarter, and I was able to hit Warrick down the sideline for a 75 yard touchdown, which sealed the game for us to win.
Chris Cate: [inaudible 00:12:22] one of the most important jobs you had as a leader at FSU was to be a friend to Warrick Dunn, who came to FSU after tragically losing his mother. What was his relationship with him like?
Charlie Ward: Before I think I was his host on this trip. Then Williams, who was my mentor or hero, is the reason why I wear number 17, mentioned to me when he came to one of our games, to make sure I took care of Warrick, because he knew his mom and his family. And so now when it was time for me to choose, new Warrick was coming, to choose a roommate, he was an ideal choice. So that's kind of how bonded. We were two guys that listen to one another, quiet type guys, and we were great roommates for one another, because we weren't into major drama, didn't like the hype, we just liked being regular people.
Charlie Ward: So I think that's something that we all had to grow, that we were going to be different than regular people because of our status, and we were as football players and what have you, and basketball for myself. And then he grew into that stature. After I left, he became like one of the faces of the program in the school. So we kind of gleaned from each other. We learned a lot from my experience in college, senior year, and I learned a lot from him during his time, because he was going through a tough time, a tough period. We were a match made in heaven in a sense.
Chris Cate: Are you still in close communication with him today?
Charlie Ward: Yes we talk periodically, and when we see each other, we catch up. So we're all ripping and running. He's doing his thing in Atlanta, and I'm here now in Tallahassee back and forth between here and Pensacola. So I probably get a chance to see him more often when he comes to town, because we'll probably come to the games and different things. So hopefully get to see him more.
Chris Cate: So when you leave FSU, you have the chance to play basketball or football. How do you you decide which option ultimately is going to be the way that you're gonna take your career?
Charlie Ward: Well, God opened up the door for me to have options, and I wanted to make sure that I kept my options open. So I just continued to focus on both sports. My senior year, I had already graduated from college, and I continued to play basketball because I wanted to keep that option open. And when I made that decision, football NFL, saw it as he's not committed 100%, which I wasn't, because I knew my status in football. I was going to be a third or fourth round pick regardless of what combine, or workout or whatever I did. And so I'm gonna put all my eggs in the NFL basket and I wanted to give myself an option. So I continued to play basketball in college and I went through the process of doing the on campus workouts with the NFL. When things didn't materialize in the draft, I just continued to push even further for basketball. And I went through the whole combine process and trying to get by name and recognition out as a basketball player through the combines and different tour events. And so those things I worked very hard to do, and when the NBA draft came around I was fortunate to be able to hear my name called in the first round, which I had no clue that was going to happen, but I'm grateful they did.
Chris Cate: And playing for the Knicks is a historic classic team to play for. What was that atmosphere like playing at Madison Square Garden as your home field, home stadium?
Charlie Ward: Well it became something I enjoyed. It was a little bit intimidating, first going to New York from Tallahassee, Thomasville, which is not New York. So it was a little intimidating at the beginning when I first got there. But once I got there and got my feet wet and acclimated to my surroundings, I was able to fit in and have some great mentors, which was a great blessing for me. I have Derek Harper, who is one of the top tier guards, should be a Hall of Famer, who is not. I had Herb Williams there as well. Doc Rivers was on that team before he got traded. So I had some great people to model myself after a professional. Guys that had been in the league for a long time. I was grateful to even have them around and learn from.
Charlie Ward: In New York, I found my niche. I knew I was a road player. I was in the community and I was the glue guy. I mean, I hustle, I did little things, and they liked that. So they knew about the Heisman and what have you, but I had to earn my basketball stripes. So I put a lot of time and effort with Coach Jeff Van Gundy to sharpen my basketball skills.
Charlie Ward: As I continued to mature in basketball, I continued to get a little bit better each and every year in some aspect. But I enjoyed the New York experience, because there was a lot to do there, it's a big city, and it's a city if you want your name to be recognized or something, you're going to be recognized in New York.
Chris Cate: Was there in the game where you really felt like, okay I made it, I'm an NBA basketball player, and this is who I am?
Charlie Ward: No, I mean it was like when you first get drafted, but for me I took it all in stride. I was grateful to be there, but it wasn't like, yeah I made it, now I can just relax. I knew I had to push even harder to realize my goals and dreams to be an NBA player.
Charlie Ward: My rookie year really helped me stay humble, because I didn't get a chance to play. Then shortly after my rookie year, my second year, the first part of the year I didn't get a chance to play. So that gave me the fire power, the competitive spirit to say, you haven't made it just yet. You gotta keep pushing. So it didn't give me time to relax and think about where I was, or think about the dream of being here. Now I gotta continue to work so that I can get to where I want to get to.
Chris Cate: What's the best lesson that you think you've learned from a coach?
Charlie Ward: Well I had a lot of great coaches, I mean a lot of great coaches. [inaudible 00:20:25], Jeff Van Gundy, Gregg Popovich, Mark Richt, Robert Bowden, John Eason, my dad, my high school coach, coach Charlie Greene. There was just a lot of great lessons. But the one think that I can say about all those guys is, the ones that are successful, they treat everyone the same. What I mean by that is, they held everyone accountable, regardless of status, top player, bottom player, it really didn't matter. They treated everyone the same, and that's something that I can respect. Because I've been at all levels. I've been the best player, I've also been the guy that's been sitting on the back of the bench and not really have an opportunity to play. So you just want a fair chance to be successful, and sometimes that happens, sometimes it doesn't. But I just learned a lot from those guys on how they treated their players and their players respected them from the start, down to the guy on the back end of the bench.
Chris Cate: After your playing days were over, how much did having a dad who coached high school football and basketball influence your decision to become a high school coach instead of coaching at the college or professional level?
Charlie Ward: Well I was running from being a coach, because I thought initially a lot of things that I did was instinctual. I play a lot of instincts which I did do, but when I started looking back, there were a lot of fundamental things that I had been taught as well. So a lot of things as far as watching film, and all those aspects of coaching, that sometimes we take for granted. When it was time for me to retire, Coach Van Gundy allowed me to do like an internship in some form. And once I got an opportunity to start mixing and mingling with the younger players, then I realized that this was my calling, because I did have a lot to be able to give back to the younger player. Then he allowed me to continue to coach on the pro level.
Charlie Ward: When it was all said and done, I wanted to have more time with my family, and so that's the reason why I chose high school, because college is very similar to the pro game, where you're always on the go. High school, you can at least control your schedule, if you're the head coach you can control your schedule. If you're assistant, it's really a season deal. So that's one of the reasons why I've chosen to do high school, plus I have a good role model. My dad of course as you mentioned, was a high school coach, my high school coach and I watched him when I was a young kid, coach high school. So I liked the influence, being able to share my experience what I've learned with the high school kids.
Chris Cate: You mentioned the book earlier, the new book about your life, called 'The Athlete, Greatness, Grace and Unprecedented Life of Charlie Ward." You've accomplished quite a bit in your "unprecedented life," but, what do you hope is your lasting legacy?
Charlie Ward: Well I really want people to remember me as a guy that gave his all, and don't mind giving what God has blessed him with, and being able to help others. Whether it's through resources, whether it's through time, whatever it may be, [inaudible 00:24:35] have a giving spirit. Because that was the way I played. I was a quarterback and I was a punt guard, and I was distributing the ball to various people and making sure that everyone had theirs. So that's really the way my life is. I want to be able to be known as a giver, whether it's giving back to the high school, whether it's giving to a charity, whether it's financial or time, just being a giver. I have a giver's heart. So that's really ... of course I want to be known as having great character and those types of things, but I think if can just sum up, I've always been a giver.
Chris Cate: Well I close every interview with the same four questions for every guest. The first being: Who is a Florida leader who you admire, and I can be someone from the past or present?
Charlie Ward: Bobby Bowden of course, would be my leader, because his style of leading. He was a great Christian man, and he lived it. But also he had a style that I model today, as far as the coaches and allowing his coaches to grow and coach. He hired him for a reason, so he wasn't a micromanager, which I can appreciate, and those guys have gone on to do great things. He's a people's person, and everyone that you know, they love coach Bob in some form or fashion. If they don't, then they have something wrong with them. He worked to treat every kid and help every kid that he coached. So when he told the parents that he was going to take care of them, that's what he did.
Chris Cate: What is something in Florida that you think, whether it's an issue or anything, what is something that you think deserves more attention in Florida than what it's getting right now?
Charlie Ward: Character plays a big part in the makeup of who you are. So I think a lot of times that gets skipped over because of the state testing and all the different things that are mandated for you to be able to go to the next grade. So, that's something we should think about and work to focus on, is a character ed piece in all schools, not just proper school, but in all schools.
Chris Cate: Do you have a favorite place in Florida to visit?
Charlie Ward: Not really. From a family standpoint, Orlando of course is probably a favorite place that everyone likes to go because of the theme parks. So I guess [inaudible 00:27:55] anywhere that I know.
Chris Cate: And finally, do you have a favorite Florida sports team?
Charlie Ward: Yes, Florida State would be my favorite sports team, if i had to choose.
Chris Cate: Yeah, I figured that'd be an easy question for you. Great. Well I really appreciate you taking the time to be on the show.
Charlie Ward: Oh my pleasure, thanks for having me.
Chris Cate: Thanks for listening to the Fluent in Floridian Podcast. This show is executive produced by April Salter with additional support provided by Heidi Otway and the team at Salter Mitchell PR. If you need help telling your Florida Story, Salter Mitchell PR has you covered, by offering issues management, crisis communication, social medial, advocacy and media relations assistance. You can learn more about Salter Mitchell PR at Saltermitchellpr.com. You can also learn more about the Fluent in Floridian Podcast and listen to every episode of the show at fluentinfloridian.com, or by searching for the show using your favorite podcast app. Have a great day.