By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
John Ware cared about his football players right up until he took his last breath.
“He was talking to Shannon (Currier, Truman State head coach),” said Scott Bailey, an assistant for Ware for four years and now head coach at Lamar High School. “He was having an extended conversation because he was checking up on all his guys who were still at Truman.”
Ware, who left Truman State to become football coach at Missouri Southern in 2004, suffered a heart attack during that telephone call and died on Sept. 27, 2005, at the age of 46.
Ware guided the Lions to a 5-6 record in 2004 and 2-3 in the first five games of 2005. He was on the MSSU campus for only 21 months, yet he made a major impact.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever met a more genuine man,” said Sallie Beard, the MSSU athletics director who hired Ware. “I’ve known other men who are just as genuine, but he is as genuine as they come.
“He truly had a passion for being a mentor to young men. John was very interested in the stock market, and on more than one occasion I would see him in his office trying to explain or having a conversation with a young man about the stock market. Or politics, or family commitment, and it was in a conversational tone, not as a this-is-what-you-ought-to-do tone.
“He was committed to academics. He was an academic All-American himself (at Drake). He brought the whole package. He was a pleasure to work with.”
“Everybody who knew who he was respected him,” Bailey said. “He had an impact at Missouri Southern even though he was not even there for a full two years. The size of his heart and how much he cared about his players, I think everybody saw it.
“For a guy who was as big as he was physically, the guy could talk with a young person and there was no doubt that kid knew how much Coach Ware cared about him. ... Coach Ware and Melissa (Ware, John’s wife who died of cancer on Dec. 1, 2007) didn’t have any kids of their own, so he really put a lot of energy into caring for his players. ... Even kids who had discipline problems will tell you Coach Ware cared about them.”
That loyalty for his players led to some of Ware’s sideline antics.
“When he would get all upset and his face all red, looking like he was about to explode, that was because something had happened to one of our players and he’s wanting some justice,” Bailey said. “One time when we were playing Rolla, a referee made a call against us, and John told the referee to come to his office and he would show him he made the wrong call. Sure enough after the game, here came the referee into John’s office, and they put the VHS tape in, fast-forwarded to the play in question, and Coach Ware was wrong. The ref was right. John stuck his hand out and apologized to the ref for the things he did during the game.”
Ware also had a passion for weightlifting. He was a five-time U.S. Senior National Powerlifting champion, and in 1989 he was the world record holder with a total lift of 2,427 pounds. That record, however, was beaten six weeks later.
“I went on the weightlifting circuit with him for 10 years,” said Jeff Jacques, first-year head coach at Kirksville High School. “He was like a dad to me. He took me under his wing when I was a senior in high school and got me involved in powerlifting. We went to Las Vegas, to Pennsylvania, to Atlantic City.”
They also went every year to the state penitentiary in Anamosa, Iowa.
“It was there where Coach Ware squatted over 1,000 pounds for the first time,” Jacques said. “The inmates went nuts. He did not want to do that in a big spectrum. He felt the need to give back to those guys. They would write him letters, wanting workouts, and every time he would go up and put on a show for them. He had some of his best weightlifting moments in Anamosa, Iowa.
“One thing a lot of people don’t know about Coach Ware is he was a two-time arm wrestling champion in Iowa by the age of 18. He won right-handed and left-handed in the same tournament.”
And, it was Ware who directed Jacques toward a coaching career.
“I thought I wanted to make a living by weightlifting,” Jacques said, “but Coach Ware said you need an education and got me into college. I was a non-traditional student ... went back at the age of 25, married, and my daughter was born on homecoming during the season. I played one year — I was old and beat up — and stayed three years as a volunteer coach while finishing my degree.
“He was pretty much responsible for getting me into coaching. I really missed him this year. There were a lot of things I wish I could have asked him as far as coach, how to handle players, how to handle situations. I know he would have guided me in the right way.”