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January 21, 2013

Hood: Next man up, coaching style



Having failed to lock down a psychology degree during my long ago years as an undergraduate student, I'm unable to offer South Carolina fans an exact reason why Brad Lawing left to take a similar job at Florida.

By all accounts, Lawing was happy at USC. As I wrote during Outback Bowl week, he is one of the most successful assistant coaches in school history with 17 years in Columbia under three different coaches on his resume.

When we spoke with Lawing in Tampa, he gave no indication that he was considering leaving. In fact, here is his exact quote: "I'm where I want to be. That's why I came back to South Carolina. I've enjoyed my 17 years here and hope to enjoy plenty more."

Now it's over. Next coach up.

What happened? Did Florida offer him so much money that he simply couldn't refuse? Did the future of the defensive line position concern him when Jadeveon Clowney, Chaz Sutton and perhaps Kelcy Quarles departed after the 2013 season? Was there some sort of falling out with Steve Spurrier and/or Lorenzo Ward? Did something happen on the recruiting trail? Are the reasons he left even related to football?

Plausible questions, all.

Lawing is undeniably a great defensive line coach, certainly one of the best in the nation. Spurrier often claimed Lawing was THE best at his craft anywhere and USC was fortunate to have him.

If he wasn't one of the best, a school like Florida or a defensive-minded coach such as Will Muschamp wouldn't pursue him to take over for the highly regarded Dan Quinn, who left Gainesville last week to become the defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks.

However, like 99.999 percent of us, Lawing is not irreplaceable. Over the next few days, the USC football office will likely be bombarded with resumes from coaches all over the country eager to coach a career-uplifting player like Clowney, along with Quarles, Sutton, J.T. Surratt, Gerald Dixon Jr., Phillip Dukes, Darius English, Gerald Dixon, Deon Green and others.

In short, I don't anticipate any shortage of qualified candidates to fill Lawing's coveted spot on the staff. The talent on hand, a mid-six figure salary (Lawing earned $300,000 in 2012) and all the perks and benefits of being in the SEC guarantees a solid hire.

With National Signing Day a little more than two weeks away, USC has commitments from four defensive line prospects, including Devin Washington, who displayed an encouraging level of maturity when he Tweeted this on Sunday when news of Lawing's departure broke: "Coaches come and go, that's a part of college football. That's why when I picked Carolina. I chose the school because I LOVE CAROLINA."

Who will replace Lawing? Undoubtedly, a popular name will be former Gamecock standout Chris Rumph, who has garnered two national championship rings in two seasons as Alabama's defensive line coach. Rumph has played a significant role developing Alabama's defense into the best in the country.

Just as important, Rumph has mentored a number of NFL-caliber players in Tuscaloosa, so taking on the colossal responsibility of coaching up Clowney in his (presumably) final season with the Gamecocks before he could become the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft shouldn't prove intimidating for him.

Remember, Rumph tried to recruit Clowney first to Clemson when he was the defensive line coach for the Tigers, and later to Alabama. So, Rumph and Clowney are very familiar with each other and should get along swimmingly.

When will the new defensive line coach be hired? Spurrier has a decision to make. Should he make a decision quickly and hire somebody before Signing Day or will he wait until the ink is dry on the letters-of-intent?

It depends, I guess, on the feedback the coaches receive from recruits over the next few days. If Washington's Tweet represents the super-majority view, USC has little to worry about and Spurrier could wait until after Signing Day.

If not, a quick hire could come about. But Spurrier has proven to be very thorough in his previous coaching searches. The HBC has carefully constructed a culture around the USC program, one that's not appropriate for all types of coaches. Spurrier prefers coaches who are teachers and mentors first. Screamers are far down the list.

Let the drama begin.

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