A symptom of a successful football program is having other schools interested in your top assistants. In recent years, the turnover rate on the South Carolina coaching staff has stabilized, but regime changes at Louisville and (possibly) Vanderbilt could have some members of the Gamecock coaching staff looking for promotions. Though there has been nothing coming out of Louisville to indicate that athletics director Tom Jurich might look at Lorenzo Ward in his search to replace Charlie Strong, there are plenty of reasons to think that Carolina's defensive coordinator might be a good fit.
For one, Louisville will be needing to step up its recruiting efforts as it moves from the AAC to the ACC in 2014, and Lorenzo Ward has established himself as South Carolina's best recruiter. The Cardinals already recruit Florida heavily and Lorenzo Ward could add East Georgia to their Southeastern footprint. Whammy has stolen several top recruits out of Georgia's back yard in recent years and was brought on as the "closer" in Jadeveon Clowney's recruitment.
Another, probably more important factor is that hiring Ward would mean that Louisville is hiring a defensive-minded, African-American head coach to replace a defensive-minded, African-American head coach. As crass as it may seem to bring race into this discussion, the fact is that black coaches are still pretty severely underrepresented in the coaching profession. Charlie Strong has spoken publicly about his struggle to get his first head coaching job and his gratefulness to Louisville for being the first school to take a chance on him. It's not that a big of a leap to think that race might be one of many factors that play into Jurich's decision-making as he tries to find a replacement for Strong.
Ward, of course, also has rather strong credentials as a defensive coordinator. After taking over for Ellis Johnson beginning with the 2012 Capital One Bowl, Ward guided South Carolina to a top-11 finish in yards per play defense in 2012 and, despite dropping to 60th in that category in 2013, developed a young back seven into a strength by the end of the season. What's more is that the Gamecocks have been excellent at making in-game adjustments under Ward. This strength was showcased in the 2014 Capital One Bowl when the Gamecocks slowed down Wisconsin's ground game after Melvin Gordon and James White ran roughshod over South Carolina in the first half.
As of Saturday night, the only name to have been linked to the Louisville vacancy so far has been Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason.
RT @BFeldmanCBS: Hearing that a name to watch at #Louisville is #Stanford DC Derek Mason. Like AD Tom Jurich, Mason has NAU roots.— SB Nation CFB (@SBNationCFB) January 5, 2014
Mason has been calling the shots on defense for the Cardinal since 2011, during which time Stanford has finished 28th, 20th, and 16th in yards per play defense. Mason is just a few years younger than Ward and has spent most of his coaching career west of the Mississippi.
Steve Spurrier had this to say in November about Lorenzo Ward's readiness to take a head coaching position:
I think we've got several assistants that could be excellent head coaches. Certainly, Lorenzo Ward is very capable also. I would say he's probably getting ready.
What do you think? Is Ward ready to run his own program? How big of a loss would he be for South Carolina? If he leaves, would you want to promote from within or make an outside hire?