You cannot begin to define why South Carolina Gamecocks football has been successful this season without mentioning the name Lorenzo Ward.
The first year defensive coordinator for the Gamecocks has created nothing short of a complete identity shift in making South Carolina one of the most recognized defenses in the country.
With three games still remaining (plus a bowl game), the Gamecocks are ranked 12th in total defense, 19th in red-zone defense, 18th in tackles for loss, 14th in rushing defense and seventh in sacks.
2012 may not be finished, but Ward’s immediate returns upon investment from South Carolina make the future very bright in Columbia, SC.
That is what made Darryl Slater’s report (h/t The Post and Courier) this past week that Georgia State was interested in Ward becoming their head coach such a wake-up call.
Granted, Georgia State, as Slater also commented, “is not the most attractive job” compared to Ward’s current position as DC at South Carolina (money-wise a pay cut for Ward), but it serves a warning that eventually a program with the right kind of prestige and the right kind of money could lure Ward away for a head coaching job.
After all, the same was the fate for former DC Ellis Johnson who left South Carolina in December of 2011 to take over the reins at Southern Mississippi.
Johnson had spent four years at South Carolina, and (much like Ward) made the Gamecocks one of the top defenses in the SEC as well as in nation.
Even Steve Spurrier admitted back in September (h/t Chris Low, ESPN.com) that Ward runs things “a little different” than what Johnson did as DC for the Gamecocks, but “he’s coaching a very sound fundamental scheme, and our players are making very few mistakes.”
But where Ward seems to be his most invaluable and impacting to the Gamecocks is in recruiting, specifically in the state of Georgia.
Slater’s same report cited nine commitments landed by Ward in the last recruiting class, giving the South Carolina staff its best rapport-builder with its rival state and definitely its best closer when it comes to signing time.
“Closing” became the theme of his memorable visit to Jadeveon Clowney in January of 2011 when he used a comparison to Mariano Rivera to illustrate his no-BS pitch to close the deal and bring Clowney to South Carolina.
Ward’s up-front delivery worked, and the Gamecocks landed one of their best recruits in the program’s history.
Whether it’s in the living room or on the field, Ward has produced results for South Carolina in a very rapid fashion since his promotion last year. But just like the short window his players get to make their mark, so is the same for South Carolina to keep such a talent like Ward in their ranks as a DC when inevitably more lucrative offers will come his way.
Whatever the length of his tenure, Ward has laid the groundwork for a perennial defensive powerhouse in the SEC and helped get South Carolina that much closer to getting its first conference championship.