Staff changes elsewhere add to USC heat

South Carolina finished the 2014 season ranked 92nd nationally in total defense under coordinator Lorenzo Ward. (Allen Sharpe/Aiken Standard/File)

It’s not just that other college football programs in the South have made upgrades, will make upgrades or have locked in esteemed defensive coordinators. It’s that most of them are on South Carolina’s 2015 schedule.

Meanwhile, back at the 7-6 rebuilding project in Columbia, head coach Steve Spurrier is standing pat on coaching changes.

“I certainly think maybe an addition will help us,” Spurrier said last week, “but we’ll wait and see how that works out.”

That sounds like a minor tweak coming, something like bringing unemployed former South Carolina defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson back in some capacity.

Pressure builds as Spurrier teases.

Some Gamecocks fans want a new defensive coordinator to replace Lorenzo Ward after South Carolina finished 92nd nationally in total defense. Others just want some staff changes to help Ward along.

Former Florida head coach Will Muschamp had fan support but took his defensive coordinator skills to Auburn.

Before leaving LSU, well-respected defensive coordinator John Chavis reportedly had interest in moving back to South Carolina and joining Spurrier’s staff. Instead, he settled for a whopping $1.67 million per year from Texas A&M.

Sam Khan Jr. of ESPN.com wrote that if Texas A&M fans were hoping for a home run hire, they got “a grand slam” with Chavis.

How about a mere extra-base hit at South Carolina?

Whatever Spurrier does, it’s getting harder to keep up with 2015 opponents.

The offseason adjustment list, still fluid:

North Carolina, the Gamecocks’ foe in the 2015 season opener on a Thursday night in Charlotte, just hired Gene Chizik. True, he didn’t last long at Auburn as head coach without Cam Newton. But when last seen coaching against South Carolina, Chizik in 2011 led the Tigers to a 16-13 upset victory in Columbia. It was the lowest-scoring game of the season for an 11-2 South Carolina team.

Texas A&M plays host to the Gamecocks on Halloween. If that’s not scary enough, the Aggies will have Chavis scheming against Spurrier.

LSU, due in Columbia Oct. 10, was certain to land a quality replacement for Chavis as sure as Les Miles eats grass on the sideline. Kevin Steele, former Clemson and Alabama defensive coordinator, was hired Tuesday.

New Florida head coach Jim McElwain made a splash with his defensive coordinator hire, getting Geoff Collins to leave the same job at Mississippi State. Collins in 2014 was nominated the Broyles Award, given to the nation’s top assistant coach.

Clemson this week gave defensive coordinator Brent Venables a new four-year contract at $1.35 million per season, a reward for guiding a defense that led the nation in fewest yards allowed.

So maybe it’s best that Spurrier turned down a chance to open the 2016 season against Florida State in Orlando, passing the opportunity on to Ole Miss. There are enough challenges ahead the next few seasons.

Of course, players make the biggest difference. Ward looked smarter with Jadeveon Clowney, Devin Taylor, Kelcy Quarles, DeVonte Holloman, D.J. Swearinger, Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree in 2012 than with those guys gone to the NFL by 2014.

South Carolina has help on the way, led by junior college star defensive end Marquavius Lewis.

There are also recruiting and stability advantages that come with keeping a coaching staff intact for a third consecutive season.

But a backlash beckons if Chavis contributes to Texas A&M shutting South Carolina down over the next few years, or if Ward struggles.

Or both.

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff