Last month, Ward had Hillsborough on the brink of its third straight state semifinal appearance. The Terriers gave eventual Class 6A state champion Bartow everything it could handle before falling 68-65. There were hugs and heartfelt speeches afterward.
That turned out to be Ward’s farewell. Days later, Ward announced he was stepping down as coach.
“This was something I knew about for a long, long time,” Ward said.
The timetable for his departure was put in place almost as soon as he took the job. After all, Ward did not even want it. But the parents of Zach Carter, now a defensive linemen with the Florida Gators, begged him to apply. So Ward did, knowing that if he took over the program he would walk away once the bulk of the players from a travel team he coached graduated.
When Ward was hired in 2014, he inherited a program that won 21 games in the previous four seasons combined. After going 13-13 in Ward’s debut season, Hillsborough has gone on to make three straight region final appearances and is in the state semifinals for the first time since 1996.
Ward’s basketball roots have a lot to do with how he approaches the game.
The former Bradenton Southeast standout spent seven years playing professionally in Europe. His coaching career started at the developmental level at IMG Academy (2001-10) before moving to the women’s ranks as an assistant at St. Leo (2011-12) and Hillsborough Community College (2013-15).
Ward currently is a job developer with the Tampa Housing Authority and vice president of development with the Skills Center in Tampa. His son, former Tampa Prep standout Tyson Ward, recently finished his college career at North Dakota State by winning a second straight Summit League conference title.
“I wanted to stick around for those kids that have been with me this whole time,” Ward said. “We built something special.”
For the past six seasons, Chris Ward led Hillsborough High’s basketball program back to prominence. The Terriers never had a losing season in his tenure and made it to five straight region finals, the longest run in team history.