Ellis Johnson, the South Carolina defensive coordinator and assistant head coach with Steve Spurrier since 2008, left for the head job at Southern Mississippi. Lorenzo Ward is now the defensive coordinator for the Gamecocks. On the outside, this seems like an easy transition. But is it?
Coach Ward was given the title defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach when he was hired in 2008. However, Ellis Johnson ran the defense until he left last December.
When Johnson announced he was taking the job with Southern Miss in December, Spurrier immediately made Ward the interim defensive coordinator for their upcoming bowl game. As preparations for the game continued, Spurrier decided to make the assignment permanent. He promoted Coach Ward the week of the bowl game.
Whether it was due to the change or not, the Gamecocks played an excellent defensive game against Nebraska in the Capitol One Bowl. The Cornhuskers only had 253 total yards and scored 13 points.
Coach Ward promises the only difference you will notice in his defense is it may be a bit more aggressive. Based on the bowl game results—six sacks recorded against Nebraska, that would seem to be the case.
According to Coach Ward, his philosophy is to keep things simple. "If you've got good players, you need to keep it simple for them."
South Carolina has arguably one of the best pass rushers in college football this season in sophomore defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney played in all 13 games as a freshman last year. He was second-team All-SEC and the SEC Freshman Player of the Year.
Along side him at defensive tackle is sophomore Kelcy Quarles, who was a third-team All-American last year.
The South Carolina defensive backs made great improvements under Ward's tutelage. That group, along with what some say is the top front seven in college football defense, indicates Ward has a very talented group of players.
How this defensive unit performs this year may not determine if Lorenzo Ward will have a permanent place among the best college defensive coordinators. People like Kirby Smart, John Chavis or even Ellis Johnson have been doing this very well for years.
A great defense this year, along with another record-setting Carolina season overall, may allow his name into the conversation—a start the coach will take.