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USC hogging ex-Arkansas coaches

Lorenzo Ward
Lorenzo Ward

Lorenzo Ward worked with Bobby Petrino for one season, a losing one at that. Still, it was enough for Ward to decide the Arkansas coach operated on a different level than most of his peers.

"He's one of the smartest coaching offensive minds I've ever been around," said Ward, USC's defensive coordinator.

The two will reunite Saturday when South Carolina visits Arkansas.

Ward's presence has been noted by Petrino.

"That's something that concerns us: how much he really knows about our offense and what we do, a guy who was here for a whole year," Petrino said Monday at his weekly news conference. "But we know a little bit about how he teaches, too, and coaches his guys, too, so it probably balances out."

Ward doesn't think his experience at Arkansas will be of much help to his current team. The Arkansas offense held its meetings in a room on the other side of the building, he pointed out. Ward never sat in on offensive meetings, and he and Petrino didn't discuss offensive schemes during defensive meetings.

"So what he thinks I know is going to be strictly from what I learned on the (practice) field," Ward said. "But I don't know what he thinks I know about his offense."

Ward had followed Ellis Johnson to Arkansas; Johnson gave Ward his first job, as a graduate assistant at Alabama in 1991. But Johnson left the Razorbacks after 30 days to become USC's defensive coordinator. Ward stayed behind because there was not an opening on the USC staff at the time.

When Ron Cooper left for LSU last January, the first call Johnson made was to Ward. It took a raise and a coordinator title to get Ward, who coaches the Gamecocks' cornerbacks and free safeties.

There was no animosity in the move, according to Ward. In fact, he said he would work for Petrino again if the opportunity arose.

"I think he's a great head coach," Ward said. "He's very organized. He's got his way of doing things, he's got his system, and it's going to work. I keep telling guys all the time, when he gets the players that he wants, it's going to work."

When Petrino was hired at Arkansas in 2007, he brought in Johnson, who had been at Mississippi State. But the quick departure of USC defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, after 17 days, caused coach Steve Spurrier to call Johnson.

Petrino chuckled Monday when asked how well he knew Johnson.

"I knew him for a cup of coffee. That's about it," Petrino said. "I wouldn't say we really have a relationship. He's a nice guy and a very good football coach. I certainly respect everything that he's done. ...

"He really had to take the (USC) job, had to go back there, had an opportunity to get set up for retirement the way he's supposed to and take care of his family, so certainly no ill feelings on my part at all."

Still, Ward seemed to believe the Razorbacks might have a bit of additional motivation facing Johnson and himself.

"I'm sure, whether it's said or not, there might be a little more something to get your blood flowing for them," Ward said. "Especially since we're going against his offense."

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