COLUMBIA -- Three football assistant coaches left South Carolina after last season to take other jobs. Now, a fourth is leaving, but under different circumstances. Jeep Hunter, who coached safeties last season, was fired on Friday by coach Steve Spurrier, USC announced.
The announcement read: "Coach Spurrier indicated that he felt the team needed a more experienced secondary coach and has decided to go in that direction."
Hunter, 44, came to USC in 2009 after coaching tight ends at Georgia Tech from 2006-07 and running backs at Memphis from 2003-05. He coached defensive backs at Eastern Kentucky (2001-02) and Tennessee-Chattanooga (2000).
In his first two seasons in Columbia, Hunter coached tight ends and was an assistant special teams coordinator. He moved to defense in 2011 and coached safeties, while Lorenzo Ward worked with cornerbacks.
Recruiting is an important part of being a college football assistant coach. Hunter signed just three recruits, all from Florida, in the past two recruiting classes, according to Rivals.com.
In the class of 2010, he signed offensive guard Ronald Patrick. In the class of 2011, he signed defensive tackle Deon Green and offensive tackle Mike Matulis. Patrick was a backup in 2011, while Green redshirted and Matulis started five games. (Recruiting for the class of 2009 was already finished by the time USC hired Hunter.)
Ward was promoted before the Capital One Bowl to defensive coordinator, replacing Ellis Johnson, who left to become Southern Mississippi's head coach. Ward arrived in Columbia in 2009 and coached all defensive backs his first two seasons, then focused on corners in 2011.
Johnson also coached linebackers, and hired Kirk Botkin to work with that position group. Spurrier hired Joe Robinson to coach special teams and tight ends, and Everette Sands, a former Citadel star, to coach running backs.
USC's previous special teams and spur linebackers coach, John Butler, left to become the defensive backs coach at Penn State, which is not far from his hometown, Philadelphia. Running backs and tight ends coach Jay Graham left to coach running backs at Tennessee, his alma mater.
Now, Spurrier must find a fourth new assistant to join Botkin, Robinson and Sands. With Hunter's departure and Ward's promotion to defensive coordinator, the next new USC assistant likely will need to take over responsibilities in the secondary.
In addition to the departures of Johnson, Butler, Graham and now Hunter, USC also lost its strength and conditioning coach, Craig Fitzgerald, last week. He is heading to Penn State, according to State College's Centre Daily Times. USC promoted assistant strength and conditioning coach Joe Connolly to replace Fitzgerald, whose hometown is Philadelphia.
"We wish coach Hunter and his family the very best," Spurrier said in USC's announcement.