It has been a frustrating season for South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward. The good news for Ward is he can pick up the phone and find a sympathetic ear without having to look too hard.
It might never have been harder to be a defensive coordinator. In each of the past six seasons, the number of teams averaging more than 30 points per game has increased. In 2009, 32 teams averaged more than 30 points and two teams averaged more than 40 points. This season, 62 teams are averaging more than 30 and 10 are averaging more than 40.
“Offenses have changed, there is no question about it,” South Carolina defensive line coach Deke Adams said. “You look around the country, all year, every week, you have some of the top defenses in the country giving up 300, 400 yards a game.”
Defensive coordinators across the country are feeling the pinch. Auburn, under Ellis Johnson, has given up more than 30 points in five consecutive games for the first time in school history. Johnson coordinated Steve Spurrier’s defense at South Carolina from 2008-2012. Mississippi State, the No. 4 team in the country, has the No. 12 defense in the SEC and gives up 418 yards per game.
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“The ball is moving around more than it used to, no question about that,” Spurrier said. “The spread-out offenses, and so forth, are probably more difficult to defend than the old I-formation teams. But there are a lot of good defenses out there.”
As for whether all that means defensive coaches should be judged differently than in the past, Adams says, “That’s not for me to worry about. When it comes to that, that’s for the head coach and everybody else to make those decisions.”
Bob Pruett is one of nine men to coordinate Spurrier’s defenses since Spurrier took the Florida job in 1990.
“Coach Spurrier is a CEO, so he’s in command of the whole program,” Pruett said. “He does not take away your creativity on defense. He hires you to do a job. He expects you to do a job. If you can’t get it done, he’s got to find somebody to do the job.”
Pruett replaced Ron Zook as Florida’s defensive coordinator in 1994 after Zook was demoted to special teams coordinator. Pruett left after the 1995 season to take the Marshall head coaching job.
“Does he put pressure on you? Yeah, he puts pressure on you,” Pruett said. “He’s demanding, but he’s demanding on his players and he’s demanding on himself. That’s the reason he’s one of the greatest coaches to ever coach the game.”
That being said, Pruett said he doesn’t believe Spurrier enjoys firing coaches “at all.” Ward said earlier this season he isn’t worried about his job security. Speculation about your job status “is just the way it is” in coaching, Pruett said.
“In the SEC, that’s the life of a coordinator – offense or defense,” he said. “If you’re going to be in the big dance, you better have the footwork. That’s the greatness of being in that league.”
The Gamecocks are last in the SEC in scoring defense (32.7 points per game) and 13th in total defense (442.3 yards per game) but are coming off their best defensive game of the season, holding Florida to 278 yards in a 23-20 overtime victory. Sophomore defensive end Gerald Dixon gave Ward a vote of confidence this week.
The season “is not his fault,” Dixon said. “The calls he called are good. It was just us executing the plays. People were just doing what they wanted to do. Coach Ward is a great coach, and, hopefully, he’s here next year, because I believe in him strongly.”