Tragedy struck the Missouri Southern St. University football team on Tuesday, when head coach John Ware died in his office of an apparent heart attack. He was 46 years old.

Ware was in his second season at MSSU and had the Lions off to a 2-3 record. After a 1-10 campaign in 2003, Ware led them to a 5-6 mark in 2004. Before coming to Joplin, Ware spent 19 seasons in the Truman St. program. In his final nine seasons there—1995-2003—he was the head coach. During Ware’s tenure, the Bulldogs were 55-44.

“Like all of the guys, I’m grieving, but I’m also grieving the loss of one of my best friends -if not by best friend,” said Keeth Matheny, the Lions’ offensive coordinator and assistant head coach, who will take over the program for the remainder of the year.

“John was one of those guys that made you feel better after you talked to him,” Matheny said. “He was as even-keeled as they come and he was as visionary as they come. Nothing deterred him from our team was headed. He was the center-board of this program and we would not be blown off course.”

An autopsy on Ware will be conducted today in Springfield.

“John Ware was a man with a vision, and that vision was beginning to become clear to our community and our campus,” MSSU Athletic Director Sallie Beard said. “It was almost palpable, the impact that he had in just a short period of time.”

As a collegian, Ware, who hailed from Ottumwa, Iowa, was an NCAA Division II All-American offensive lineman and an Academic All-American at Drake University.

He left behind a wife, Melissa, who was the former athletic media relations director at Truman St.

“There are five games remaining – five opportunities – to make a great man proud,” said Matheny.

One of those opportunities will be on Saturday in what seems to be a fitting match up. Missouri Southern will host Truman St. for homecoming.