Deke Adams was sitting at home with his two sons on New Year’s Day, watching South Carolina play Michigan in the Outback Bowl.
Adams knows a thing or two about what elite defensive line play looks like, because he had coached the position group for various colleges over the years. As he hung out with his sons and watched the bowl game, he was doing it at North Carolina, his highest-profile job to date.
Then, like a flash on the television screen, USC defensive end Jadeveon Clowney burst through a hole in Michigan’s line and plowed into running back Vincent Smith, sending Smith’s helmet flying off his head. Smith lost the ball and Clowney scooped it up with one hand, in one motion.
“We all yelled,” Adams said. “After that amazing hit, we all said ‘oooh’ at the same time. The hit was amazing, but probably the best part of the whole deal was the way he reached back and picked the ball up like it was a little softball or something laying on the field. He just palmed the ball like it was nothing.”
Adams didn’t think at the time that he might coach Clowney next season, or that his sons, 13-year-old Jordyn and 16-year-old Jaylen, would have a chance to meet Clowney and tell him where they were when they saw his hit.
Then again, before early last week, USC defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward didn’t think he would have to replace defensive line coach Brad Lawing. But with Lawing now heading to Florida for essentially the same job, Ward needed to find a replacement.
He made quick work of the task, hiring Adams on Monday, though USC hasn’t officially announced it yet. The news came out Monday night, and a source confirmed Adams’ hiring. Soon thereafter, Adams spoke about why he decided to trade one Carolina for another.
But first, a bit about Adams, who will replace a well-regarded defensive line coach and recruiter in Lawing, who just finished his 17th season at USC, in his second stint with the Gamecocks, who were largely led to back-to-back 11-2 records in 2011 and 2012 by their defensive line.
Adams came to North Carolina with head coach Larry Fedora before last season. Adams spent the previous three seasons as Fedora’s defensive line coach at Southern Mississippi, where he worked with current USC secondary coach Grady Brown.
Adams played linebacker at Southern Miss from 1991-94. His position coach as a senior was Joe Robinson, who now coaches USC’s tight ends and special teams. Robinson arrived at Southern Miss in 1992 and coached defensive line for two seasons before becoming Adams’ position coach.
“I know a couple other guys (on USC’s staff), but (am) not really, really close with them,” Adams said. “I’ve known them through the business.”
Fedora’s departure for North Carolina left the vacancy that was filled by USC defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, who was fired by Southern Miss after going 0-12 this past season.
Before going to Southern Miss, Adams worked in 2008 at Louisiana-Monroe (linebackers); 2006-07 at North Carolina A&T (defensive coordinator, as well as linebackers for one season and line for one); 2002-05 at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas (coordinator in his final season and line for his entire tenure); 1998-01 at Pearl River Community College in Mississippi (linebackers, secondary and co-coordinator before taking over full-time coordinator duties in 2001); and 1997 at Jacksonville State (line), which was his first coaching job.
As a recruiter, Adams landed six commitments in North Carolina’s Class of 2013, including one four-star player, defensive tackle Greg Webb, who was rated by Rivals as the No. 11 player at his position and No. 143 overall recruit.
Just how quickly did the hiring of Adams go down?
“Everything just kind of happened real fast, to be honest with you,” Adams said Monday night. “I got a call (from Ward), and then from that point on, it took off. The next thing you know, it was over. It just went really fast. (Ward) and I, we’ve known each other for a little while, too. Definitely not as long as (I have known) Grady and Joe Rob. I had a chance to talk to coach (Steve) Spurrier today and (Ward) today. Things were just started, and it was done.”
But Adams isn’t moving to Columbia sight unseen.
“I’ve been there a couple times,” he said. “I know it’s a great place and (has) great facilities. I’m excited to be there, excited to get down there and get going.”
How important does Adams think it was to USC’s coaches that they made a quick hire with signing day approaching on Feb. 6?
“It’s coming down to the very end and everybody is trying to hold onto kids they already have or close out a deal on some kids,” Adams said. “It’s important to kids to actually know who they’re going to be playing for. You have to develop that relationship. The kids have to be able to possibly develop a relationship to know what they’re getting in a coach.”
Why did he take the USC job?
“Coach Fedora has been great,” Adams said. “He’s been great to me and my family. I’ve enjoyed my time with him. It was a great opportunity for me and my family. I get a chance to coach one of the best defensive players in the country (Clowney). I’m excited about that.”
Was an opportunity to coach in the Southeastern Conference for the first time a big factor in Adams wanting this job? Somewhat, he said, but it wasn’t the main reason.
“I don’t think it’s per se that, wanting to just coach in the SEC,” he said. “This was a great opportunity with a great staff and a great head coach. South Carolina is in the SEC, and that’s icing on the cake.”
Adams confirmed that he will have the same job as he did at North Carolina. He will coach the entire defensive line, just as Lawing did.
Adams isn’t sure what territory he will recruit. Lawing recruited North Carolina and also got wide receiver Shaq Roland from near Columbia, in Lexington, and two big recruits from Greenwood: defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles and free safety D.J. Swearinger. Lawing played a big role in getting running back Marcus Lattimore out of the Spartanburg area.
Adams doesn’t have experience recruiting in South Carolina, but he has recruited much of the rest of the Southeast, he said: the Atlanta area, which is valuable for USC; Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee and some parts of Texas. Obviously, recruiting is just as important for an assistant college football coach as the actual coaching duties. Perhaps more so.
“I won’t get on campus for another couple days,” Adams said. “I’m sure right now, this time of the year, it’ll be just: Go wherever needed to go, to close things off (in recruiting).”
Though Adams said coaching in the SEC wasn’t his No. 1 reason for coming to Columbia, he knows the league boasts elite talent.
“That’s the best conference in college football right now,” he said. “That’s where things are really happening right now. I’m excited about that. On top of that, coach Spurrier being one of the best football coaches, period, to ever coach the game, that’s icing on the cake. He’s a great coach, a great mind. To have a chance to learn under him and (Ward) and go through some things with the (USC) program, I’m excited about it.”
Adams mentioned he actually played against Spurrier’s Florida team in 1992. Southern Miss and Florida also played during Adams’ senior season, 1994. Both games were in Gainesville. Florida won the first one 24-20.
“We should have won, but they pulled it out at the end,” Adams said. “It was a deal where they put together a drive on the final drive of the game.”
Adams spent some time Monday recounting that game with Spurrier when they talked over the phone. Florida went 9-4 in 1992, Spurrier’s third season at his alma mater, while Southern Miss went 7-4. In 1994, Florida beat Southern Miss 55-17 and finished 10-2-1, while Southern Miss was 6-5.
Nearly 20 years later, Adams gets a chance to not only work alongside Spurrier, but coach a guy, Clowney, who could go down as one of the best college defensive players of the past two decades.
“I haven’t really studied him or anything like that,” Adams said. “I’ve watched him when I had a chance to see him on TV. He’s probably the most dominant defensive linemen in the country right now. My goal is to definitely get in there and coach him up, but at the same time not mess him up. I’m excited to have a chance to coach him.”