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February 6, 2012
When Grady Brown was first approached by South Carolina about becoming the Gamecocks' new secondary coach and assistant special teams coordinator, he spoke with someone who knew a thing or two about the USC program.
His (former) boss.
Less than a week ago, Brown was the secondary coach at defending Conference USA champion Southern Miss, the lone coach retained from the former staff by new head coach Ellis Johnson, the former Assistant Head Coach for Defense at USC.
When he informed Johnson about USC's interest in hiring him, Brown received a response from his boss some might find surprising.
Even though he is considered one of the brightest young secondary coaches around, Johnson encouraged Brown to accept the job with the Gamecocks.
"He was really good about me coming here," Brown told 107.5 FM The Game, USC's flagship radio station, on Friday. "He had nothing but good things to say about his time spent here in Columbia. He actually encouraged me to take advantage of this opportunity. He told me about how Coach (Steve) Spurrier was a great coach to work for and this town is a great town.
"He hated to see me go, obviously, but he had nothing but good things to say about South Carolina and really encouraged me to take advantage of this opportunity. I'm definitely happy and pleased with how he handled it. We have a great relationship. He thinks a lot of South Carolina."
Brown was one of the Southern Miss assistants that didn't follow Larry Fedora to North Carolina. Instead, he chose to stay in Hattiesburg, Miss., by accepting Johnson's invitation to remain on the Golden Eagles' staff.
But that lasted about a month until USC came calling. Now Brown will be a full-time assistant in the SEC for the first time, but this job won't mark the first time he has worked in the conference.
"Ellis Johnson was very good to me in the brief time we worked together," Brown said. "He was upfront with me throughout the process. Going through this process, one of things I talked with Ellis about is how I felt kind of loyal to him because he didn't have to keep me on his staff at Southern Miss."
Brown spent about 18 months on LSU's strength and conditioning staff in 2008-2009 until being hired by Fedora at Southern Miss, beginning a three-year stretch with the Golden Eagles.
He was part of the Southern Miss staff when the Golden Eagles faced USC in the 2010 season opener at Williams-Brice Stadium. USC won, 41-13.
The cornerbacks at Southern Miss flourished under Brown's guidance. This past season, the Golden Eagles were No. 7 in pass efficiency defense and set a NCAA record for most interceptions returned for touchdowns with eight. Overall, USM finished No. 29 in total defense.
But Brown knows he is taking a step up by accepting a job in the hypercompetitive SEC.
"South Carolina is a place with a lot of great history," Brown said. "It's definitely a pleasure to be here and have a chance to get reconnected with Coach (Lorenzo) Ward and work with him. You can't say enough good things about Coach Spurrier and the things he's done throughout his career and here at South Carolina. I'm very happy to be here."
Brown could be joining USC at the right time considering the turnover at the cornerback position in the wake of the departures of Stephon Gilmore (NFL Draft), C.C Whitlock (graduated) and Marty Markett (graduated). Thus, a new crop of players is ready to take over.
Ward, who already held the title defensive coordinator when he was named head defensive coach in late December, will continue to oversee the secondary and the system won't change
"I know a little bit about the system," Brown said. "We had a chance to play here (Columbia) when I was at Southern Miss two years ago. So I'm definitely familiar with the defensive tradition that has been in place here, especially on the perimeter where the guys have done a good job.
"We've had a chance to talk a little football. The biggest thing we have to continue to do is not let balls go over our heads. We want to contain the deep ball and keep everything in front of you. When we get a chance to play more aggressive, we want to take advantage of those opportunities."
USC collected 19 interceptions in 2012, most in Steve Spurrier's seven seasons as head coach.
Catching the football when you have a chance to make a pick is vital, Brown said.
"You have to erase the stigma that you're playing defensive back because you can't catch," Brown laughed. "I'm real big on developing ball skills and continuing to develop those skills. When opportunity meets preparation, that's when you usually make a big play. So we have to keep putting the guys in position to continue to make plays like they've done in past years."
In addition to superior athletes in the secondary, Brown should enjoy another advantage coaching at USC - the defensive front seven will certainly be the best he's seen in his coaching career.
"The best pass coverage is a great pass rush," Brown said. "We definitely have guys here that can get that done. Coach Brad (Lawing) has done a great job with that along with Coach Ward. We just have to continue to develop players. It's a long season, so you can never have enough good players with the SEC championship game and bowl season. The seasons are getting longer and longer. We have to have as many guys ready to go as possible."
Even though USC finished third nationally in total defense in 2011 (behind Alabama and LSU), Brown is one of two new defensive coaches for the Gamecocks, joining linebackers coach Kirk Botkin, who was hired about three weeks ago.
Brown realizes his job is to keep the defensive train on the tracks.
"I'm excited about defense is big here and has been played well here," Brown said. "I'm excited to come in and do my part to keep this deal rolling. I know there is a high talent level here. Everybody I've talked to from Coach Johnson to Coach Spurrier to Coach Ward to guys who have been here before tell me there is always a lot of talent here. We have the pieces to continue building on the success we've had here."
Brown and Ward first met 17 years ago when the former was a star high school football player in Birmingham, Ala. At the time, Ward was beginning a five-year tenure as an assistant at UT-Chattanooga.
"He recruited me coming out of high school (in 1994). He didn't get me then," Brown said "But I have been joking with him saying, 'You finally got me. It worked out; it's just 15 years later."
Brown is the second assistant coach hired by USC with coaching ties to Texas (Botkin is the other). He was the safeties coach for one season at Texas Southern prior to joining LSU.
"One of the great things about South Carolina is you can recruit nationally," Brown said. "With the success that has been achieved here, you can really recruit a kid from anywhere. A lot of programs can't say that. But we have a name here and we can go anywhere and go toe-to-toe with anybody."
Brown's recruiting territory at South Miss consisted of Birmingham and parts of Alabama and the Atlanta metropolitan area, so he should be able to assist Ward in mining talent from the city of 5 million.
"Atlanta has been very good to us here at South Carolina," Brown said. "But obviously, we have great high school football here in the state of South Carolina and in North Carolina, too. We'll definitely try to keep the best players in the state and hit the neighboring states. And we'll see what damage we can do back in my home state. Just keep the wheels turning."
Ironically, the coach Brown replaced on the USC staff, Jeep Hunter, could be hired by Johnson at Southern Miss, the web site Coachingsearch.com reported.
As that site pointed out, Johnson helped Hunter land a job at South Carolina in 2009. Moreover, Hunter worked under new Southern Miss defensive coordinator Tommy West during West's head coaching tenure at Memphis.
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