Corydon coach Darin Ward, shown last September, is in his second stint with the Panthers. / David R. Lutman/Special to the C-J
A look at the season-by-season coaching record of Darin Ward:
Darin Ward’s roots have burrowed deep into Corydon soil.
He left once, after a successful three-year stint from 2001-03, for greener pastures. But he came back, rescued the program from the muck of mediocrity a second time, and became the hottest coaching name in Southern Indiana when the Panthers advanced to last year’s Class 3-A semistate.
This time, when the offers for bigger and potentially better came his way, Ward didn’t wander away.
Why not? How did Corydon, which had never won a sectional title until last season, sink its claw into a proven coach?
His answer: comfort and contentment. He has built a program that can operate without micromanagement. His wife and family are happy. He might be considered the big fish in a medium-sized pond, but that’s good enough.
“We love the community here,” Ward explained. “We have a lot of great friends. Even when I left, we stayed in touch and traveled with people. Now I have little ones starting school.
“And it’s the proximity to Louisville. My wife works downtown. I’m a small-town guy, she’s a big-city girl. We get the best of both worlds. She gets to eat the flamboyant lunches, and I get bologna and cheese every day.”
One man’s bologna might be another man’s steak. Many of his peers would be envious of the ease with which the Corydon program is managed. Good coaches surround themselves with the best people possible. Ward trusts his staff, reassembled when he returned to Corydon in 2009, and allows them to work unobstructed.
“Coming back here was easy,” Ward said. “We got the band back together. I knew I would have a great staff. They are in it for the right reasons. I’m spoiled with what they do. We enjoy doing it and have a good time. The relationships you build are bigger than the actual game. If I was miserable and couldn’t stand it, I wouldn’t do it.”
The staff is headed by offensive coordinator Aaron Humphrey — “ I don’t do anything on offense except get in the way,” Ward said with a laugh. Former head coach Jason Timberlake is the strength coach and handles the defensive line. Kevin Burton, Chris Baelz and Jeff Durham are other key components.
“We work well together,” said Ward, who runs the defense. “Everyone does their niche. They work jobs and have careers. Some work second shift or go in at four in the morning so they can be here in the afternoon. They sacrifice. That’s why it was easy to come back and it will be difficult for me to leave. I’m comfortable.”
While his program seems to be on cruise control, especially in the summer when golf becomes a priority, Ward is still serious and diligent when it comes to winning. Resting on the laurels of last year’s unprecedented success would be easy. But he worked too hard — twice — to build it up just to let it slide now.
“The people in the community know that Corydon football is back,” senior quarterback Chase Burton said. “They know Darin Ward built it. Since then, we’ve reloaded every year. With him on the sideline, there won’t be a lot of games that we lose. They know what they’re doing.”
Ward, a former player under Bill Mallory at Indiana University from 1992-96, has earned respect similar to that of his old-school mentor.
“He’s a great coach, as you can tell from his record,” Burton said. “He’s a great guy to be around. He has a great sense of humor, and all the guys like him. I never hear anyone say they’re going to quit because they don’t like Coach Ward. People buy into his philosophy.”
So will Ward ever leave? Coaches don’t last forever, and even good ones need good players. But Ward believes he has built something that will last. He appreciates the rewards, and the attention that comes with it.
“It’s humbling and it lets you know we’re doing the right thing around here by being successsful,” Ward said. “I’d like to think, not only are we successful on the field, but we’re doing it the right way. That’s important to me.”