Updated with more information at 7 p.m. on June 2, 2021.
For 13 years, Tyrus Ward just worked. Just grinded. He didn't always know what he was working and grinding toward; he just knew he needed to keep on doing it.
It led to numerous coaching opportunities for the former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football player: first as an assistant in the prep ranks, then in head roles at Whites Creek near Nashville and at Brainerd (his high school alma mater) and most recently a short offseason stint at Tyner. Yet the Chattanooga native always felt a gravitational pull to his college alma mater, and no matter where he was working as a teacher and coach, he'd occasionally find his way to Scrappy Moore Field to take in a UTC practice.
He didn't know exactly why at the time. Now there seems to be an answer.
On Wednesday, UTC revealed it had hired Ward to coach defensive backs on Rusty Wright's staff. He will replace David Bibee — like Ward, he was also a former prep coach in Chattanooga, having led Baylor from 2000-05 — whose retirement was announced by the Mocs in the same release.
"The thing he brings to us coming from the high school level is his ability to relate to those guys coming out," Wright said in the release. "He knows what's going on with them on a daily basis, which helps us in recruiting. Adding him to the defensive backs staff back there with Coach (Lorenzo) Ward and those guys is a huge balance."
Ward and Wright started to build a relationship during the recruitment of former Brainerd standout Joseph Norwood, who played at Massachusetts and was most recently on the roster at James Madison.
"I've always had a relationship (with Wright), but it started becoming very surreal within the last month or two, just knowing this was going to happen," Ward said. "That's when all the memories started coming back, when that excitement started coming back to me, and I'm just thankful that he gave me the opportunity to coach on the next level."
It also helps that Ward is from the city.
He played quarterback at Brainerd during a prep career in which he scored 59 touchdowns, and as senior he threw for 1,339 yards and rushed for 1,038. He was an All-American track athlete who won a state championship in the 300-meter hurdles in 2001. He signed as a wide receiver with East Tennessee State University, but when the Buccaneers disbanded their football program after the 2003 season, he transferred to UTC and totaled 52 catches, 745 yards and five touchdowns — including the winning 43-yard reception in 2004 when the Mocs beat Appalachian State 59-56 in Chattanooga — in 18 games across the 2004-05 seasons.
Ward worked at Red Bank and Brainerd as a football assistant for six seasons, then spent the past six seasons as a head coach, first at Whites Creek in 2015-16 and then at Brainerd the past four years. He remained a prep coach for the early portion of 2021, shifting from Brainerd to Tyner in mid-February before stepping down in late April, calling it a tough decision but saying that "something has come up unexpectedly that would be an opportunity for me and my family" without elaborating.
Now he gets a chance to develop as part of a staff that includes defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward — who has worked in that same position in the Football Bowl Subdivision and has coached 16 defensive backs who went on to the NFL — outside linebackers coach Jordan Tippit (another UTC alum) and inside linebackers coach Mike Yeager.
"It was 13 years of just grinding where your feet are and not worrying about wins and losses. Not worrying about how many kids you're signing, just grinding and doing right by kids, doing right by the profession," Ward said. "You're just hoping and praying that someone will see your work. I've never complained. I've never made any excuses, and to finally see it come is just a testament to the hard work and things will come your way.
"It's been God's will, because this came out of the blue. I've been around, but I'm not here just thinking that one day I'll get that phone call, so when that call came, I realized that after 13 years, my prayers had been answered, and now it's time to put all the things I've learned and take all the things and experiences that I've had over the years in high school and bring it to the college level."
And it only took 13 years.