For much of his coaching career, Tyrus Ward has earned a reputation for taking on rebuilding projects and turning around struggling programs.
Ward, who has guided two downtrodden high school football teams to the playoffs shortly after taking over, has now been given the chance to lead an established program. Tyner announced Friday afternoon that the 36-year old Ward will be the Rams' head coach, replacing Wayne Turner.
"Tyner puts me in a football culture. It's a place with a football-rich tradition," Ward said. "Kudos to Coach Turner and all the players who built that. I love that there is already a standard in place. That's what drew me to the job. I'm coming in on the shoulders of the people who laid the groundwork, so I have an obligation to continue that success."
Turner had been Tyner's coach for 30 years, winning 10 or more games 11 times, earning 16 region titles, reaching the playoffs 27 times, appearing in three state championship games and winning the 1997 2A title. Turner exited after last season and has since been hired as an assistant at East Hamilton.
"Tyrus is a local guy, a community guy and somebody who holds kids accountable and loves working with them and building boys into men," Tyner principal Gerald Harris said. "I've had my eye on him for a while, even before he came back to Chattanooga, because I've just always liked the way he worked.
"His leadership abilities really stood out above all the other 40 or so applicants that we had. Tyrus is well respected in the community, and he's an example of someone who came from a local program and has done great things. Coach Turner left a legacy, so Tyrus has big shoes to fill, but we feel he's up for the challenge."
Ward has coached at Brainerd, his alma mater, for the past four seasons, inheriting a program that was on a 12-game losing skid. He rebuilt the Panthers into a playoff team by his second season and last fall guided them to an eight-win season — their most victories since 2009 — that ended in the second round of the Class 3A playoffs.
Brainerd's eight wins last season matched the combined total for the four seasons before Ward took over.
"I wrestled with this decision," Ward said. "I was excited about the Brainerd job because I was coming back home and I hated the stigma Brainerd had. That always ate at me. I wanted to put them in a position to get that negative perception off of them. I'm leaving Brainerd in a good place."
Ward began his coaching career as an assistant at Brainerd, then worked at Red Bank before returning to his alma mater for a second assistant's stint. He also coached Brainerd's girls' basketball team from 2013 to 2015.
He then took over as head coach at Nashville's White Creek, a program that had struggled through 27 consecutive losses before his arrival in 2015. With Ward as coach, the Cobras snapped one of the state's longest losing streaks in their third game of his first season. He directed that team to three wins, the most by the program in five years.
A 2002 Brainerd graduate, Ward was an all-state selection in football and an All-American in track, where he won a national title in the 400-meter hurdles and was a state champion in the 300 hurdles. He also was a Times Free Press Best of Preps basketball selection as a point guard for the Panthers.
Ward's younger brother E'Jay is the boys' basketball coach at Tyner, where he has maintained one of the city's most consistent programs.
"It's unique and very special to be at the same school as my brother," Tyrus said. "We've never officially been on each other's staff, but we talk to each other a lot and are around each other's programs out of brotherly love, wanting to see each other succeed. We'll continue to be that support system for each other, but now we'll get to be in the same hallways."