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Defensive Coordinator Moves Abound, but Not (Yet) at South Carolina

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The people in charge of the conference's worst defense are still in charge of it.

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

It's coaching change season, and not just for head coaches. The SEC is seeing a big shuffle at the defensive coordinator spot. Auburn, Texas A&M, and Vanderbilt fired their DCs, with the first of those three hiring Will Muschamp to take the spot. Florida has hired Geoff Collins away from Mississippi State, making another opening and meaning D.J. Durkin is out on the market. Oh yeah, and Missouri lost Dave Steckel to the head coaching job at Missouri State.

One program that hasn't made a change is South Carolina. Lorenzo Ward had a rough year, overseeing the conference's worst defense in a few different measures. Plenty of rumors abounded about Steve Spurrier wanting to get Muschamp, with the head ball coach having to answer questions about Muschamp in November and refute an erroneous report in December. Throughout all of the speculation, the defensive coordinator job in Columbia was never actually open.

It's getting a little late to make a change, although some assistants could conceivably still get pink slips. Ward did well in his first two years before the bottom fell out this year:

Season DC Def. S&P+ Rank Rushing S&P+ Rank Passing S&P+ Rank
2005 Tyrone Nix 38 73 16
2006 Tyrone Nix 37 61 50
2007 Tyrone Nix 33 56 6
2008 Ellis Johnson 27 26 17
2009 Ellis Johnson 11 28 8
2010 Ellis Johnson 12 3 18
2011 Ellis Johnson 15 53 3
2012 Lorenzo Ward 6 12 10
2013 Lorenzo Ward 22 35 14
2014 Lorenzo Ward 100 117 85

Ward coordinated the best overall defense of the Spurrier era in 2012, with the second-best rushing and passing defense marks. The defense took a step back in 2013, but it's hard to maintain the level of the '12 defense. Despite the slight regression, it was in line with Ellis Johnson's record and better than any of Tyrone Nix's units.

South Carolina's defense had a transitional year personnel-wise in 2014, something that can hit any coach. Despite all of the struggles, retaining Ward can be a defensible move based on the prior two years. Spurrier could still clean house if the bowl game goes poorly, but it would be another blow to a recruiting class already hurt by his declaration of being "two to three years" from retirement.

Given that defensive transitions take time, whether to keep or dump Ward is a decision that will likely define the rest of Spurrier's tenure in Columbia. If he's gong to make a change, now's the time. If not, then Ward needs to find his former form.