Before early last week, South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward had no idea that he might soon have to find a new defensive line coach.
But then Brad Lawing started talking to Florida coach Will Muschamp around the beginning of last week, Ward said, and Muschamp arranged for Lawing to visit Gainesville after the Gamecocks concluded their big recruiting weekend.
Before Lawing went to Florida, he informed Ward and head coach Steve Spurrier that he was going to make the trip and speak with Muschamp, Ward said.
And around 11 p.m. Sunday, Lawing informed Ward that he was leaving USC for Florida, its Southeastern Conference Eastern Division rival, where he will coach defensive ends, Ward said.
Lawing had the most time at USC of any coach on Spurrier’s staff, including Spurrier. The 2012 season was Lawing’s 17th with the Gamecocks. He first coached defensive line for them from 1989-98, then returned in 2005 when Spurrier took over the program.
He mentored some of the Gamecocks’ top players in recent years: Eric Norwood, Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney, who are almost certainly the three best defensive ends in school history. The Gamecocks’ defensive line was the biggest strength of their entire team in 2012, and Clowney is one of the best returning players in college football.
Lawing’s departure to Florida was set in motion when the Seattle Seahawks hired Florida’s defensive coordinator, Dan Quinn, and Muschamp promoted linebackers coach D.J. Durkin to coordinator. Durkin will continue to coach linebackers, which meant the Gators still had an opening for a defensive line coach. Quinn coached the line along with Bryant Young, who was a four-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle with the San Francisco 49ers.
Ward said Lawing will share defensive line coaching duties at Florida, and Lawing will be responsible for the ends. Lawing will work under Florida’s third defensive coordinator in four seasons. Charlie Strong left to be Louisville’s head coach after the 2009 season and was replaced by Teryl Austin. Muschamp arrived in 2011 and hired Quinn as his coordinator.
As for why Lawing left USC, Ward said, “It became (about) a little more than football. He felt like he and his family needed a new start. That’s what they’re going to do.
“I think at this point in his career, money is always an issue, especially when you’re getting close to an age when you’re trying to make as much as you can (before retirement). But I think it had to do with a lot more than money.”
After the 2011 season, Lawing received a raise from $250,000 to $300,000. He turns 56 in August.
Ward said he would let Lawing offer more specifics on his family-centered reasons for departing. But Ward said he was “totally” surprised by Lawing wanting to leave.
“Brad is a fixture here,” Ward said. “I definitely was a little surprised.”
But when asked how big of a loss Lawing’s departure is for USC, Ward didn’t hesitate.
“It’s not,” Ward said. “Brad is a real good football coach, but there’s a lot of good d-line coaches out there. I wish Brad well, but we’ll go out and try to find the next best d-line coach.”
Ward said Spurrier hasn’t set a timetable for finding Lawing’s replacement. USC is finalizing its 2013 recruiting class before national signing day on Feb. 6. Because Spurrier exclusively handles the offense, he defers defensive decisions to Ward, and this situation will be no different.
Ward’s connections brought in USC’s two new defensive coaches last offseason, Grady Brown (secondary) and Kirk Botkin (linebackers). Ward has known Brown since Brown was 17. Ward worked with Botkin at Arkansas during Ward’s one season as the secondary coach there, 2008.
“The boss (Spurrier) always has the final say (on hires), but I’ll definitely have a lot of input,” Ward said.
Ward said all of the recruits who Lawing received commitments from will stay with USC. According to Rivals, Lawing’s commitments in the class of 2013 are from “athlete” Pharoh Cooper, defensive end Kendal Vickers and Goose Creek linebacker Gerald Turner, all of whom received three out of five stars from the recruiting service.
Lawing’s previous high-profile recruits, according to Rivals, include wide receiver Shaq Roland, the second-highest rated USC recruit in the class of 2012; running back Shon Carson and defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles in 2011; free safety D.J. Swearinger in 2009; linebacker Reginald Bowens in 2008; and cornerback Chris Culliver in 2007.
“Brad is a great football coach,” Ward said. “Brad is one of the best d-line coaches I’ve ever been around. He’s a technique and fundamentally sound football coach. He gets the most out of his players and he’s always done that.”
Last offseason, Brown and Botkin were two of four new USC assistants, along with Joe Robinson (special teams and tight ends) and Everette Sands (running backs). They replaced Jeep Hunter (safeties), Ellis Johnson (defensive coordinator and linebackers), John Butler (special teams) and Jay Graham (running backs and tight ends).
Hunter was fired, Johnson became Southern Mississippi’s head coach and was fired from there after a winless season, Butler joined the new staff at Penn State and was recently promoted to defensive coordinator, and Graham left to coach running backs at his alma mater, Tennessee. He was retained by new coach Butch Jones, who replaced Derek Dooley after this past season.
USC’s new defensive line coach will get Quarles and Clowney back, but will have to replace tackle Byron Jerideau and end Devin Taylor in the starting lineup.