Ward Leaves For the Gamecocks

FAYETTEVILLE — For the second January in a row, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier looked to Arkansas to find his next defensive coordinator.

Former Arkansas secondary coach Lorenzo Ward told The Morning News on Monday that he has accepted an offer to be South Carolina's new defensive coordinator after mulling over his options for the past few days.

Ward said Ellis Johnson was willing to give up his title as the Gamecocks' defensive coordinator after only one season in order to entice his longtime friend to join Spurrier's coaching staff.

"My ultimate goal is to be a head coach, and with the title, it increases your chances of being that. So that was the major factor in the deal," Ward said. "But Ellis and I are very close, been close a long time and the opportunity to work with him will be great also."

Johnson was hired as Arkansas' defensive coordinator last January, but he left after only a few weeks on the job to accept a similar position at South Carolina.

Ward, 41, said it was "difficult" informing Petrino on Monday morning that he was leaving to accept a three-year deal with the Gamecocks. He's expected to officially start work in South Carolina on Friday.

"I have no disrespect for coach Petrino as a man and as a coach. I learned a lot from the year I spent with him," Ward said. "I think he's one of the most intelligent offensive minds I've ever been around. He understands what defenses do and how to attack ‘em."

Spurrier said Monday that Ward will serve as South Carolina's safeties coach along with being its defensive coordinator. Johnson, meanwhile, will take on the new title of assistant head coach and assistant coach for defense with the Gamecocks.

Ward was in the final year of a two-year deal at Arkansas that paid him $190,000 annually. Arkansas associate athletic director Kevin Trainor said Ward's deal didn't include a buyout, meaning South Carolina shouldn't have to pay Arkansas to get the assistant out of his contract.

Petrino hasn't spoken to the media since holding a Dec. 3 news conference to wrap up his first season with the Razorbacks. But he issued a statement Monday through the university thanking Ward for his one season at Arkansas.

"We appreciate the hard work and efforts Lorenzo gave to the Arkansas football program in his tenure," Petrino said in the statement.

It's uncertain where Petrino will look to find Ward's replacement. Petrino spent Monday attending the American Football Coaches Association convention in Nashville, Tenn.

Dean Campbell, who served as Arkansas' director of high school relations last season, could be considered for the coaching vacancy. He has an extensive background coaching defensive backs, including during his stops at Air Force, Texas Tech, Texas and North Carolina.

Ward's departure, especially so close to National Signing Day on Feb. 4, could cause a problem for Petrino.

Ward was regarded as one of Arkansas' top recruiters, and his decision to leave for South Carolina could leave some recruits reconsidering whether to sign with the Razorbacks.

A relative for West Helena cornerback Darius Winston told Hawgs Illustrated on Monday that the five-star recruit will wait until Petrino hires a new secondary coach before making a decision about his future.

Winston, who has already given an oral commitment to Arkansas, is rated as the nation's second-best cornerback prospect.

Ward stressed he has no plans whatsoever of trying to steer any of Arkansas' recruits to South Carolina.

"Speaking with coach Petrino, that's something that I'd never do," Ward said. "That was discussed at the University of South Carolina before I accepted the job, that I would not recruit any kid that was being recruited by the University of Arkansas."

In Ward's only season in Fayetteville, the Razorbacks tied for seventh in the Southeastern Conference with 11 interceptions and ranked 10th in pass defense (204.4 yards per game) and last in total defense (375.2 ypg.). They finished 5-7.

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