Ward won the 1993 Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award, and Davey O'Brien Award as a quarterback for Florida State University, and subsequently led the Seminoles to their first-ever National Championship when FSU defeated Nebraska 18–16 in the 1993 Orange Bowl. The Seminoles had suffered their only defeat of the season to a second-ranked Notre Dame team, but their path to the National Championship was cleared a week later when the Irish were upset at home by Boston College. Ward holds the second-largest margin of victory in the history of Heisman trophy balloting, with a 1,622 point difference, second only to O.J. Simpson's 1,750 point win in 1968. He was also the only Heisman winner to play in the NBA. In 1993, Charlie Ward won the James E. Sullivan Award from the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) as the most outstanding amateur athlete in the United States.
Though Ward did not play baseball in college, he was drafted as a pitcher by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 59th round of the 1993 free agent draft and in the 18th round by the New York Yankees in 1994. An avid tennis player, Ward also shone in the Arthur Ashe Amateur Tennis Tournament in 1994.
Ward was a model student-athlete at Florida State. As a senior and captain of the team in 1993, he voluntarily approached Seminoles head coach Bobby Bowden about a difficult situation surrounding incoming freshman Warrick Dunn, whose mother, policewoman Betty Smothers, was killed in the line of duty during Dunn's senior year of high school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Charlie served as a surrogate big brother to Dunn during the latter's first year in Tallahassee, helping him through a trying time by becoming his roommate and friend. With Ward's help on and off the field, Dunn eventually became one of the better running backs in the country and a first round NFL draft pick.
Ward also played basketball for four years at Florida State University (FSU). Former teammates included future NBA players Bob Sura, Doug Edwards and Sam Cassell. His 1993 team made it to the Southeast Regional Final where they lost to Kentucky 106–81 with the winner advancing to the Final Four. Ward's 1992 team made the Sweet Sixteen. He made the game-winning shot in its Metro Conference Tournament Championship game win over Louisville in 1991. Ward still holds FSU basketball records for career steals at 236, steals in one game at 9 and still ranks sixth all-time in assists at 396. He played a shortened season his senior year, joining the basketball team just 15 days after winning the Heisman Trophy. He started 16 games at the point guard position that year, and averaged a college career high of 10.5 points and 4.9 assists for the season.
In his senior year at Florida State, he also served as Student Government Vice-President, after he was asked to run by the Monarchy Party, a student government reform organization.
Upon graduation, Ward stated he was undecided about professional basketball or football and made it clear that he would not consider playing in the NFL unless selected in the first round of the 1994 NFL Draft. Ward proclaimed that he "deserved to" be a first rounder. Ward’s mother reported that the family was told he "was probably a third-to fifth-round pick." Because teams did not want to waste a first round pick on a player that might eventually choose the NBA, and because of his smaller stature, Ward was not selected in the 1st round of the NFL Draft. Instead of pursuing a career as a football player in the NFL, and having been chosen in the 1st round (26th overall) of the 1994 NBA Draft by the New York Knicks, he began his career in the NBA as a point guard. An inquiry was made during Ward's rookie year with the Knicks for him to become the backup quarterback for Joe Montana of the Kansas City Chiefs, but Ward declined. To this day, Ward is the only Heisman Trophy winner to play in the NBA.
Ward played sparingly in his rookie year under head coach Pat Riley, but the Knicks organization referred to him as "the point guard of the future." When assistant coach Jeff Van Gundy took over the head coaching position, Ward's time on the floor began to increase, becoming the primary backup for point guard Derek Harper. He became a fan favorite in New York for his hard work ethic and unselfish play. During his NBA career, Ward established himself as a good three-point shooter, a reliable ball distributor, and a respected floor leader. Ward was selected to participate in the 1998 NBA All-Star three-point competition, finishing fourth in the event. He soon helped the Knicks reach the 1999 NBA Finals before falling to the San Antonio Spurs. Ward was traded to the Phoenix Suns in February 2004 as part of the blockbuster trade that brought Stephon Marbury to the Knicks and was promptly cut by the Suns for salary purposes. Ward spent the remainder of the season with the Spurs and signed a contract with the Houston Rockets the following summer. After maintaining relatively good health over his first decade in the league, injuries caused Ward to miss most of the 2004–05 season. Because of his injuries Ward retired.
In Game 5 of the 1997 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Miami Heat, with the Knicks holding a 3–1 series lead, Ward appeared to intentionally take out P. J. Brown when he dove towards his legs after a loose ball. Brown retaliated by lifting Ward up and body-slamming him. This caused a bench-clearing brawl to ensue. After Miami won the game 96–81, Patrick Ewing, John Starks, Larry Johnson, Allan Houston, and Ward himself, were suspended by the NBA. Ewing, Houston, Johnson, and Starks left the bench during the brawl, which was why they got suspended. Brown was suspended for the rest of the series; Ewing, Ward and Houston were suspended for Game 6, and Johnson and Starks were suspended for Game 7. Due to the suspensions, the Knicks were shorthanded and lost Games 6 and 7 to Miami 95–90 and 101–90 respectively, failing to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. Miami would go on to lose to the Chicago Bulls in 5 games.
In 2001, while playing for the Knicks, it was discovered that Ward had made disparaging comments about Jews during a Bible-study session, comments that were eventually leaked to the press. Among the comments made: "Jews are stubborn...tell me, why did they persecute Jesus unless He knew something they didn’t want to accept...They had His blood on their hands."
There was outrage directed at Ward from Jewish groups, the public, as well as the Knicks organization itself. Ward defended himself by saying "I didn't mean to offend any one group because that's not what I'm about. I have friends that are Jewish. Actually, my friend is a Jewish guy, and his name is Jesus Christ." He also said the quotes were taken out of context, as he stated that "Jews are stubborn" in speaking to what he perceived to be their disinclination to convert to Christianity.
In June 2007, Ward was hired as an assistant coach for the varsity boys' basketball team by Westbury Christian School in Houston, Texas having passed on many professional sports opportunities. Ward was previously an assistant coach for the Houston Rockets. In addition, Ward, in November 2007, accepted the job as head coach for the varsity football team at Westbury Christian School, stating that his desire is to help prepare young minds for Christ. In February 2014 it was announced that Ward accepted the head coaching position at Booker T. Washington High School in Pensacola, Florida where his son, Caleb, will be playing football and attending the school.