COLUMBIA — South Carolina’s football team had to replace four assistant coaches after the 2011 season. This offseason seemed like it would be a quieter one, until Sunday at 11 p.m., when the staff’s longest-tenured member, defensive line coach Brad Lawing, informed defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward that he was leaving for Florida.
“Brad is a fixture here,” Ward said. “I definitely was a little surprised.”
South Carolina didn’t waste any time replacing Lawing, quickly hiring North Carolina’s Deke Adams.
Lawing just completed his 17th season at USC. He coached the Gamecocks’ defensive line from 1989-98 and then rejoined the staff in 2005 when head coach Steve Spurrier arrived.
Ward said Lawing will coach defensive ends for the Gamecocks’ Southeastern Conference Eastern Division rival, which needed to fill a spot after defensive coordinator and line coach Dan Quinn became the Seattle Seahawks’ coordinator. Former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Bryant Young also coached Florida’s defensive line last season. Florida coach Will Muschamp promoted linebackers coach D.J. Durkin to replace Quinn.
Adams came to North Carolina with head coach Larry Fedora before last season. Adams spent the previous three seasons as Fedora’s defensive line coach at Southern Miss, where he worked with current USC secondary coach Grady Brown.
Adams played linebacker at Southern Miss from 1991-94. His position coach as a senior was Joe Robinson, who now coaches USC’s tight ends and special teams.
Adams cited USC’s facilities and the chance to work for Spurrier as his reasons for taking the job. He said he is also looking forward to coaching USC’s All-American defensive end, Jadeveon Clowney.
“My goal is to definitely get in there and coach him up, but at the same time not mess him up,” Adams said.
Ward said Lawing started talking to Muschamp at the beginning of last week and visited Gainesville this past weekend.
Before Lawing began his conversations with Muschamp, Ward had no idea Lawing was even considering leaving USC.
Lawing’s decision is a curious one, considering how long he had worked at USC, that he is taking essentially the same job at Florida and that was poised to coach one of college football’s best players next season in end Clowney.
Ward would say only that Lawing is going to Florida for family reasons, and that he would let Lawing offer more specifics if he so desired. Lawing did not return a message.
“It became (about) a little more than football,” Ward said when asked why Lawing left. “He felt like he and his family needed a new start.
“That’s what they’re going to do. I think at this point in his career, money is always an issue, especially when you’re getting close to an age when you’re trying to make as much as you can (before retirement). But I think it had to do with a lot more than money.”
Lawing, who turns 56 in August, received a raise from $250,000 to $300,000 after the 2011 season.
He earned his paycheck the past two seasons, as the Gamecocks’ defensive line thrived with end Melvin Ingram in 2011 and Clowney last season. Between Ingram, Clowney and end Eric Norwood, Lawing mentored some of the Gamecocks’ top players ever.
“Brad is one of the best D-line coaches I’ve ever been around,” Ward said.
Lawing was instrumental in bringing high-profile recruits to USC, including wide receiver Shaq Roland, the second-highest rated USC recruit in the class of 2012; running back Shon Carson and defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles in 2011; running back Marcus Lattimore in 2010; free safety D.J. Swearinger in 2009; and cornerback Chris Culliver in 2007.
USC’s new defensive line coach will get Quarles and Clowney back, but will have to replace tackle Byron Jerideau and end Devin Taylor in the starting lineup.
Ward’s connections brought in USC’s two new defensive coaches last offseason, Brown (secondary) and Kirk Botkin (linebackers). Ward has known Brown since Brown was 17. Ward worked with Botkin at Arkansas during Ward’s one season there as the secondary coach, 2008.
“The boss (Spurrier) always has the final say (on hires),” Ward said. “But I’ll definitely have a lot of input.”