FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino asked his new defensive coordinator, Ellis Johnson, if there was one assistant he wanted to bring to Fayetteville when he hired him last month.
Johnson didn't need any time to come up with his answer: Lorenzo Ward.
The former Alabama defensive back returned to the Southeastern Conference when he joined Arkansas' staff in late December. He has had several stops as an assistant coach, including a seven-year stint at Virginia Tech (1999-2005) and one season with the Oakland Raiders (2006).
Johnson, who coached at Alabama when Ward was a player and assistant, had no doubt he would be an asset in Fayetteville. It didn't take long for Petrino — who coached against Ward at Louisville — to realize that, either.
"I think he had a knowledge of Lorenzo before he even visited with him," Johnson said. "But after visiting with him, I think he really was impressed, not only with his knowlege of the game, his background, his experertise, but his manner of handling players and those type things. He's one of the more well-thought of defensive back coaches in the country."
Ward comes to Fayetteville renowned as an energetic, enthusiastic and aggressive coach, whose defensive backs get their hands on the football.
The Hokies led the nation in interceptions in 2002 and were third in 2001 when Ward was an assistant. They also were third in pass defense in second in pass efficiency defense in 2005, his final season in Blacksburg.
In all, Ward coached six all-conference performers at Virginia Tech. The most notable is current Atlanta Falcons cornerback De'Angelo Hall.
"You lead by example," Ward said about his coaching style. "Being a former player, that's one thing that you want to do. If you're stagnant, then that's the way the players are going to be. If you're going to show enthusiasm, that's what he's going to do. That's the way I've always coached and that's the way we try to get the players involved."
Ward, who is nicknamed "Whammy" because of the hits he dished out as a player, wrapped up his career at Alabama in 1990. He had short stints with New Orleans and Cleveland in the NFL, but was cut by both and decided to pursue his second passion — coaching — in 1991.
"It wasn't tough for me at all because I knew my entire life I wanted to be a coach," said Ward, who worked as an Alabama graduate assistant from 1991-93. "I figured the next best thing to playing was coaching. Alabama was holding me a spot to come back and GA."
Ward said working with Johnson at Alabama helped shape who he has become as a college coach. He also picked up plenty at Virginia Tech, too, working for coach Frank Beamer and defensive coordinator Bud Foster.
But now Ward is hoping his knowledge and expertise will help Arkansas become one of the best defenses in the nation.
"They develped a great system at Virginia Tech and they recruit guys that fit into that system, which is very, very important," Ward said. "Whatever system we have here at Arkansas we need to make sure we recruit guys that fit into that system. When you can do that and you can build some depth, then you're going to have a great defense."
Ward Ready to Coach
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