Clayton White a future head coach? His South Carolina players are his biggest fans

·4 min read
Tracy Glantz/tglantz@thestate.com

South Carolina linebacker Mo Kaba has three years of eligibility remaining, including this fall. If he gets his way, Clayton White will call the Gamecocks’ defense for each of those seasons.

“Most definitely,” Kaba said of whether USC’s defensive coordinator profiles like a future head coach. “Just give me like three more years coaching (at USC).”

White’s name has been become increasingly recognizable in college football coaching circles after the job he did with the South Carolina defense a season ago. That’s led to internal and external recognition over the offseason.

He signed a new contract in February that bumped his pay from a base salary of $900,00 annually to $1.1 million. On Thursday, he was among the honorable mentions in On3.com’s poll of rising star assistant coaches to know.

Ask enough players around the Gamecocks program, and it’s easy to see why he’s drawing such attention.

“Our coaches, they’re hungry as well,” senior safety R.J. Roderick said. “They’re not just comfortable in their spot. They have aspirations to be head coaches. They go hard. We go hard. That whole energy in the building is very contagious.”

White’s coaching lineage suggested he’d become a rising star in the business sooner or later. He’s worked with the likes of Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh (at Stanford) and former Mississippi State head Joe Moorhead.

Harbaugh has since attempted to hire him a handful of times. White has also previously been tied to defensive coordinator openings in the Southeastern Conference prior to his move to Columbia.

Most recently, he was among the holdovers on the Western Kentucky staff transitioning from Mike Sanford Jr. to Tyson Helton in 2019, before he was hired by Beamer at South Carolina.

That move to USC has been fruitful so far. The Gamecocks led the SEC in takeaways in 2021 — something they’d done just twice since 2011. South Carolina also finished tops in the league in passing defense for the first time since at least 2009.

Those numbers coincided with safety Jaylan Foster’s emergence from walk-on to All-American and cornerback Cam Smith’s development into a potential first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.

That led to ample offseason buzz about the man calling the shots behind the scenes of South Carolina’s defense.

“He’s by far one of my favorite coaches that I’ve worked with,” sixth-year returner Sherrod Greene said. “He’s a great guy as far as his personality, his leadership. He’s a great teacher. He breaks it down (for) the team. It’s all about details.”

White has functionally operated as South Carolina’s linebackers coach — along with his larger responsibilities running the entire defense — since his hiring — given his background as a linebacker at N.C. State during his playing days.

Brad Johnson flourished under White’s direction, transitioning from defensive end to linebacker last fall. Kaba and ex-Delaware transfer Debo Williams have also developed into potential difference-makers in 2022 through his tutelage.

Kaba mentioned White’s hands-on approach, joking he bounces around the field and dives into drills with the group — at least as much as his knees will allow.

“There’s a couple times where he’s like, ‘Aww man, my knees,’ ” Kaba chided. “When it comes to putting hands on and getting down to things, he’s going to get down in there and show you a little something.”

The Gamecocks defense again feels positioned for success in 2022, bringing back the bulk of the pieces that helped it take a step forward a season ago. Smith projects like a star in the secondary, while defensive tackle Zacch Pickens should bolster the front-seven once more.

White’s unit will need to find new production at defensive end following the departures of Kingsley “JJ” Enagbare and Aaron Sterling. That figures to fall on some combination of Jordan Burch, Jordan Strachan, Tyreek Johnson, Terrell Dawkins and Gilber Edmond.

Another statistical season like the Gamecocks turned in last fall, and White figures to hear his name pop up as soon as college football’s never-ending coaching carousel picks up speed again.

It’s no sure thing he’s going anywhere, though.

“I’m in no hurry to be a head coach,” he told The State earlier this offseason. “I’ll call the defense here for the next 10 years if they want me to.”

Kaba won’t be around Columbia the next 10 years, but three more years with White would be perfectly fine in his book.

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