Robert Ward, 77, coach, football player at UM

May 03, 2005|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Robert R. Ward, an All-America football player at the University of Maryland who became the Terps' head coach for two seasons in the 1960s, died of complications from Alzheimer's disease Friday at a son's home in Laytonsville. The Annapolis resident was 77.

Mr. Ward was the only Terrapin player to earn All-America honors at both offensive and defensive positions, according to a university press statement released on his death. He was named most valuable player of the 1950 Gator Bowl, where the Terps defeated Missouri, 20-7, and he earned Southern Conference Player of the Year honors.

During his four years playing at Maryland, the team had a 32-7 record, with one tie.

Mr. Ward's senior year at Maryland saw the Terps undefeated, but Tennessee was named No. 1 in the polls at the end of the regular season. Maryland, which finished No. 3 behind Tennessee and Michigan State, defeated Tennessee, 27-14, in the 1952 Sugar Bowl.

Born in Elizabeth, N.J., he served in an Army paratrooper unit at Fort Benning, Ga., before entering the University of Maryland to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in business. In addition to playing football, he competed in track events and javelin.

As a player, Mr. Ward weighed 185 pounds and was a first-team All-America lineman on defense as a junior and offensive lineman as a senior. He later said he never lifted weights. "Working building trades in the summer for $3 an hour made me strong," he told a Sun reporter in 1981.

Mr. Ward's jersey No. 28 was retired by the UM football team.

As a senior, he played on a national collegiate all-star team that played the Los Angeles Rams. Mr. Ward was drafted by the Baltimore Colts but chose a coaching career.

"He told me he was more interested in coaching than playing," said one of his sons, Kelly Ward of Davidsonville. "He liked the analytical side of it."

Mr. Ward began as an assistant coach at Maryland, and followed with assistant coaching stints at Iowa State University, Oklahoma University and the U.S. Military Academy, where he was defensive coordinator.

In late 1966, Mr. Ward signed a five-year contract as the University of Maryland's head football coach, succeeding Lou Saban. But after unsuccessful seasons in 1967 and 1968 - his teams won two games and lost 17 - he stepped down in March 1969.

Newspaper stories said he had had a stormy two-year coaching tenure at Maryland and that players petitioned for him to be fired.

An article in The Sun shortly before his resignation said that "his personality is the biggest and only problem with the players," and Mr. Ward commented, "They resent, in a way, my aggressive personality."

In 1970, Mr. Ward began a four-year professional football coaching career as defensive coordinator for Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto in the Canadian Football League. Two of his teams won Grey Cup championships. He was subsequently a National Football League scout for 11 years before stepping down in the early 1990s.

Mr. Ward was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1980 and the University of Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame in 1984.

From 1970 to 1988, he owned and operated Bob Ward's Manhattan Liquors at the Annapolis City Dock.

Services will be held at 9:30 a.m. May 31 at Arlington National Cemetery, followed by a memorial service at 1 p.m. at Covenant Life Church, 7501 Muncaster Mill Road, Gaithersburg.

In addition to his son, Mr. Ward is survived by his wife of 55 years, the former Ellen Zalesak, whose uncle owned and founded the Varsity Grill in College Park and first introduced them; two other sons, James Ward of Columbia, S.C., and Robert R. Ward Jr. of Laytonsville; a daughter, Kathleen Ward of Thailand; and 13 grandchildren.

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