South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier had said he wanted to wait until after Monday's Capital One Bowl against Nebraska to name a new defensive coordinator. Instead, he decided to announce that decision Tuesday, when the Gamecocks arrived in Orlando, Fla., for the game.
The job will go to the man who technically (and temporarily) already had it: Lorenzo Ward.
Ward had the title of defensive coordinator since he arrived at USC before the 2009 season. But Ellis Johnson, the assistant head coach for defense, actually ran the defense since he came to Columbia in 2008. Ward also served as defensive backs coach.
"He knows what we want to do," Spurrier told reporters in Orlando. "He and I think almost exactly alike defensively. We've talked a lot of defense over the last two or three years. We agree on how to coach it. I felt like I was going to do it (promote Ward) anyway, and I felt like we needed to do it right now. We needed the guys that are coming back next year to look at coach Ward and (defensive line) coach (Brad) Lawing and say, 'These are my coaches.'"
Spurrier called Ward on Tuesday morning to inform him of the promotion. Ward said that when Spurrier announced the decision to the players later Tuesday, a few chest-bumped him.
"It made me feel good that the players wanted me to have this particular title," Ward said.
Johnson's job opened after he was hired last Tuesday as the head coach at Southern Mississippi. Spurrier named Ward the interim replacement for the bowl game. After some deliberation, he decided to stick with Ward, who has run a defense just once before, from 1998-99 at Tennessee-Chattanooga.
So USC, after the bowl game, won't be preparing for the arrival of a high-profile outside candidate, like Mike Stoops. The former Oklahoma defensive coordinator was fired in October as Arizona's head coach.
"At one time, I thought we'd look around a little bit," Spurrier said. "Then I started thinking, 'I don't need to look around. I've got the guy right here that knows how we want to coach defense, and he knows how to do it.'"
Though Ward doesn't have Stoops' national name recognition, Spurrier saw how Ward helped improve USC's secondary this season. In 2010, the Gamecocks ranked No. 97 nationally in passing defense (241.9 yards allowed per game). This season, they are second (133 yards yards per game). The Gamecocks' 18 interceptions are sixth nationally. They had 10 last year.
Ward coached the cornerbacks and safeties in his first two seasons at USC. This season, he worked with the corners, while Jeep Hunter worked with the safeties. Hunter coached tight ends in his first two seasons in Columbia.
Ward came to USC after spending one season as the defensive backs coach at Arkansas. He served as defensive backs coach at Virginia Tech from 1999-2005, and he said he bases much of his defensive philosophy on that experience. Ward got his first coaching job in 1991, as a graduate assistant at Alabama, a few months after he graduated from that school. He worked with Johnson, who coached outside linebackers.
Over the past four seasons, Johnson established lofty standards for USC's defense. The Gamecocks ranked No. 13, 15, 17 and 4 (this season) in yards allowed per game and No. 30, 24, 43 and 12 in points allowed per game. Ward said the basic structure of the defense will look "very, very similar" to how it looked under Johnson.
Ward said his coaching philosophy is based on "keeping it simple, really. If you've got good players, you need to keep it simple for them."
Johnson also coached linebackers at USC, so Spurrier must hire an assistant to fill that spot. Spurrier also must hire someone to replace running backs and tight ends coach Jay Graham, who left to become the running backs coach at Tennessee, his alma mater. Spurrier will likely make both hires after the bowl game.
Spurrier said fifth-year senior offensive tackle Kyle Nunn will attempt to play in the bowl game. If he does, he would not be eligible to receive the medical hardship waiver and sixth year of eligibility that Spurrier had said the school planned to apply for. Spurrier said Nunn could play either tackle spot. He played both positions last year, but hasn't played since the fourth game of this season. ... Spurrier said left tackle Rokevious Watkins has been practicing at guard. Spurrier is hopeful right guard Terrence Campbell will be able to play in the bowl, but he hasn't practiced since cracking his fibula in the regular season finale against Clemson. ... The eligibility for the bowl game of defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and cornerback C.C. Whitlock remains uncertain after their images and names were featured on a promotional flier for a Christmas Eve party -- a potential NCAA violation. Their images and names were later removed. Ward is optimistic both will be available for the game. "I've heard positive things about it," he said. "I don't know if they're 100 percent cleared yet, but I feel good about where they are in the process." ... Ward had been on the sideline for games, but he said he will now probably go up into the booth, and Hunter will be on the sideline.