RENO, Nev. – A veteran defensive coach who has worked at all levels of college football, Brian Ward has been named the defensive coordinator of the Nevada football team, head coach Jay Norvell announced today.
“I talked to a great number of coordinators for several weeks about our position and Brian was the most detailed and competent coach throughout that process,” Norvell said. “He has great knowledge and came very highly recommended. Brian has a history of building championship defenses at multiple institutions and he’s won games at the highest levels of college football.”
Norvell said the Wolf Pack will run multiple-front looks on the defensive side moving forward under Ward, who will also coach linebackers at Nevada.
Ward comes to Nevada after a four-year stint at Syracuse with the Orange. He was hired as DC in 2016 and added the role of linebackers coach in 2017 and the rise of the Syracuse defense played a large role in the Orange’s win over No. 2 Clemson in 2017 and its 10-3 season in 2018.
Ward’s defenses at Syracuse were nationally relevant, including back-to-back seasons (2017 and 2018) in which the Orange led the nation in turnovers forced in 2018, forced more turnovers in 2017 and 2018 than any other FBS team in the nation, and finished in the top 15 in third-down defense. Syracuse was also top-six nationally in 2018 in turnovers gained, interceptions, fumbles recovered and sacks, while also setting the school record for sacks. He helped develop a quintet of players into All-Atlantic Coast Conference selections during his time with the Orange.
Before joining the Orange, Ward served as the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach for Bowling Green in 2015. He oversaw a defense that improved in several statistical categories from the previous year and featured two All-MAC selections at linebacker, including first-team honoree Austin Valdez. Ward also served as Bowling Green’s head coach for the 2015 GoDaddy Bowl versus Georgia Southern.
Ward was a nominee for the Broyles Award – given to the nation’s top assistant coach – in 2017 at Syracuse and he was one of three FBS finalists for Linebackers Coach of the Year from FootballScoop.com in 2015 while at Bowling Green.
Ward’s defensive improvements were a major factor in Bowling Green winning the 2015 Mid-American Conference (MAC) title. The Falcons surrendered 4.6 fewer points and nearly 76 yards less of total offense per game than they did in 2014. In addition, Bowling Green moved up the NCAA statistical rankings in passing defense (up 44 spots), rushing defense (up 20 spots), scoring defense (from 106 to 84) and total defense (from 115 to 86). Bowling Green finished 13th nationally in turnovers gained (27) and eighth in interceptions (20). Valdez was the leader of the unit, racking up 144 tackles and ranking 10th in the FBS in tackles per game (10.3).
From 2012-14, Ward was the defensive coordinator at Western Illinois where he molded the Leathernecks into one of the top defenses in FCS football. Ward’s 2013 unit ranked seventh in the nation in total defense (305.3 ypg) and third nationally in passing defense (149.0 ypg). The next year, the Leathernecks put on one of the most impressive defensive displays of the season against Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon. Western Illinois held the Heisman Trophy finalist to 38 yards on 17 carries (2.2 yards per carry).
Before joining Western Illinois, Ward was the defensive coordinator at Drake in 2011 where he helped the Bulldogs to a 9-2 record and the Pioneer Football League championship.
Ward’s other previous coaching stops include: McPherson College (1997, 2007-09), Glendale Community College (1999-2000), Wabash College (2001-04), Missouri Southern State (2005) and North Dakota State (2010). He spent the 2006 season as the defensive coordinator and assistant head coach at Tulsa Union High School in Oklahoma.
A 1997 graduate of McPherson College, Ward served as the head coach of his alma mater for three seasons from 2007-09, compiling a 17-14 (.548) record. In his final season, he led the Bulldogs to a 9-2 mark, the program’s first berth in the NAIA national playoffs, and was named CollegeFanz.com Sports Network NAIA Coach of the Year. During his head-coaching tenure, the Bulldogs boasted seven All-Americans, two Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference (KCAC) Players of the Year, seven NAIA Scholar-Athletes and 39 All-KCAC selections.
Ward holds a bachelor’s degree in history from McPherson and a master’s degree in organizational management from the University of Phoenix. He is married to the former Amy Brandseth. The couple has three children – Travis, Ellie and Erin.
The File on Brian Ward
Hometown: Glendale, Ariz.
Family: Wife – Amy; Daughters – Ellie, Erin; Son – Travis
Education: Bachelor's, McPherson College, 1997
2020-present: Defensive Coordinator/LBs, Nevada
2016-19: Defensive Coordinator/LBs, Syracuse
2015: Defensive Coordinator/LBs, Bowling Green
2012-14: Defensive Coordinator/LBs, Western Illinois
2011: Defensive Coordinator/LBs, Drake
2010: Assistant Coach/DBs, North Dakota State
2007-09: Head Coach, McPherson College
2006: Asst. Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator, Tulsa (Okla.) Union HS
2005: Asst. Head Coach/Co-Defensive Coordinator/Special Teams Coordinator/LBs, Missouri Southern State
2001-04: Asst. Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator/Secondary, Wabash College
1999-2000: Defensive Coordinator/Secondary, Glendale CC
1997: Defensive Coordinator/Special Teams Coordinator, McPherson College
McPherson College (1994-96)