Odd as it sounds, for the second consecutive January, South Carolina has plucked a defensive coordinator from Arkansas.
Ellis Johnson was the first a year ago. Lorenzo Ward, it seems, will become the second.
Ward told The Post and Courier this afternoon that he accepted an offer to round out the Gamecocks' reconfigured coaching staff. His title?
"I'll be the defensive coordinator," Ward said when reached by phone at the national coaching convention in Nashville, Tenn.
Ward said he has aspirations to one day become a head coach, and netting the coordinator title means a lot toward that end.
Presumably, Johnson's title will become something more generally associated with leading the defense. He held the title assistant head coach this past season.
Ward said "you'd have to talk with coach Johnson about that" when asked what Johnson's title would be.
Who'll have what responsibilities isn't yet clear. Ward was hesitant to elaborate too much.
A voicemail message was left on Johnson's cell phone.
Ward's title clears up the issue of USC being hesitant to offer multi-year contracts to assistants without coordinator titles.
The school got around that once last week, when it gave new offensive line coach Eric Wolford a three-year deal based on the auspices of a running game coordinator tag. He'd held that role at Illinois.
Ward's deal is also three years in length, he said.
Johnson and South Carolina had zeroed in on Ward as their top target about the middle of last week, but a couple of contractual hang-ups kept the deal from happening quicker.
For one, Ward was in the middle of a two-year, $190,000 deal with the Razorbacks. Information about the buyout clause wasn't immediately known.
Additionally, Ward was trying to figure out some sort of temporary housing solution in Columbia since he has two homes to sell, in Arkansas and Atlanta.
This will be Ward's third move in three years.
He said that's been taxing on his family, especially his 12-year-old son.
"It's been a total ordeal," Ward said.
Ward, 41, takes the place of Ron Cooper, who left a week ago for Louisiana State amid some tension within the staff.
Cooper had been at USC, coaching the defense in some capacity, since Lou Holtz's final year in 2004.
Ward has long been a friend of Johnson, who is entering his second season with the Gamecocks.
They got to know one another in the early 1990s, when Ward as an Alabama grad assistant working with Johnson, then a Tide defensive assistant. Ward left in 1992 for an Atlanta-area high school job.
Later, Ward got to be known as "Whammy" Ward during his seven seasons (1999-2005) as Virginia Tech's defensive backs coach before he left to join the NFL's Oakland Raiders. After a year there, he then left to coach with Johnson at Mississippi State.
When Johnson was initially courted by Steve Spurrier in December 2007, one of the hiccups in their negotiations was the fact that Johnson also wanted to bring Ward. But there were no openings for other Gamecocks assistants.
The pair wound up going to Arkansas. Three weeks later, after Brian VanGorder headed back to the NFL, Johnson came to USC and Ward stayed behind.
Upon learning this morning that Ward would move on, Razorbacks coach Bobby Petrino was said to be livid. Petrino is now in his second year at Arkansas.
Ward becomes South Carolina's fourth football hire of the young year.
Wolford joined the staff Jan. 6. G.A. Mangus, formerly of Middle Tennessee State, took over as quarterbacks coach three days later.
A new strength coach, Craig Fitzgerald, was hired at some point last week.
Reach Travis Haney at firstname.lastname@example.org and check out the new South Carolina blog at www.charleston.net/blogs/gamecocks.
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