Pittsburgh Steelers great Hines Ward to be wide receivers coach at Arizona State

Arizona State head football coach Kenny Dillingham may have lost a wide receivers coach a week or so ago, but he sure came with an eye-opening successor, and a well-known one at that.

Former Pittsburgh Steelers great Hines Ward has agreed to step in to lead that position group. He was in attendance at Saturday night's practice as an observer. He will likely be made available to the media on Tuesday after paperwork clears human resources.

Ward, 48, replaces Ra'Shaad Samples, who departed for a spot at Oregon as wide receivers coach and associate head coach after one year with Dillingham in Tempe.

There appeared to be a strong pool of applicants. Thursday Dillingham said he had talked to six candidates. Not only did he talk to Ward, but former New England Patriots receiver Troy Brown appeared to be in the mix too, having been seen on campus. The second-year head coach could not contain his excitement but he showed his sense of humor too.

"We had been working with it for a few days. There was one thing in the contract we couldn't agree upon. I told him he had to admit that there was only one toe in bounds and he wouldn't do it so we had to take that language out and once we took that language out he signed and he's here."

Dillingham said he got connected with Ward through Matt Butterfield, his chief of staff, who knew Ward through the XFL.

"I asked coach Butterfield, how is he. `He's an unbelievable person so I said ` OK, how is he as a coach? He's a phenomenal leader of men. I said Ok, well we need to interview this guy because if he's a great person, a great leader of men, let's see if he can coach football and we brought him in and he's phenomenal in his teaching progressions. He's phenomenal in his vision for what it looks like and the thing that really stood out to me most was, any time you have somebody who has been so successful, you say, `OK, do they want this? Do they want the grind. Why do you want to work 100-hour weeks when you don't have to? When I asked him that question he said. `I love it and I want to prove to people I can do it.` And when you have a guy and watch him play the game, all he did was prove people wrong with his effort and physicality. That was his identity as a person and then when he's in your office and says I want to prove to people I can be the best, you can feel it. And when you can feel the energy, when you can feel the passion, any room he steps into, any family that feels that passion that I felt in that room, they're going to want to play for him."

Ward was a third-round draft pick (No. 92 overall) out of Georgia in 1998 and played for the Steelers from 1998 to 2011. His resume is highlighted by Super Bowl championships in 2005 and 2008. He was named MVP of the Super Bowl in 2005 — a game in which Pittsburgh defeated the Seattle Seahawks 21-10 — after catching five passes for 123 yards including a 43-yard touchdown from wide receiver Antwaan Randle El.

He played in 217 NFL games, registering 12,083 receiving yards, 1,000 receptions and 85 receiving touchdowns. Ward was an NFL Pro Bowl selection four times (2001–2004). In 2002, he set a Steelers franchise record for receptions (112) and touchdowns (12), both since broken by Antonio Brown.

He was also considered elite when it came to pass blocking.

Ward does have coaching experience. He's a former wide receivers coach at Florida Atlantic in Boca Raton in 2021 and has served as an offensive assistant for the New York Jets (2019-2020). He was also a head coach in the XFL with the San Antonio Brahmas in 2023.

Dillingham admitted his players were a little bit in awe at first.

The fact that Ward is more than just a good former football player stood out.

"There's Hines Ward the player, which is great. Not all players can be great coaches. My goal was to find the best football coach and I believe I did that," Dillingham said. "It's not about his accolades, it helped him learn the knowledge and learn all those things to become a great coach. I truly believe after being around him a day and half, being at the white board with him, seeing the progressions, seeing the passion for what he's about, the person he's about. He hit up somebody to ask about me. The first question he asked was, `Is he a good person? The first thing on our board when you walk in is 'Be a good person.' So if he's asking about me and that's his first question, then what do you think he values? That fits the culture I'm trying to build here. And on top of that, he wants to be here, doesn't want to move around. He wants to find some stability in the coaching world."

Ward, who was born in Seoul, South Korea, has a solid group of wide receivers at ASU, with that position being by far the best on the offensive side of the ball. ASU returns its top athlete at that position in Elijhah Badger, with Troy Omeire and Jordyn Tyson among the most impressive players in spring drills thus far. Tyson was the clear standout Saturday in the team's ninth of 15 spring sessions.

Ward also appeared on Season 12 of Dancing With the Stars and was crowned the winner, along with his partner Kym Johnson.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Super Bowl winner Hines Ward joins Arizona State football staff