Algebraic coding theory is one of the areas that routinely gives rise to computational problems involving various structured matrices, such as Hankel, Vandermonde, Cauchy matrices, and certain generalizations thereof. Their structure has often been used to derive efficient algorithms; however, the use of the structure was pattern-specific, without applying a unified technique. In contrast, in several other areas, where structured matrices are also widely encountered, the concept of displacement rank was found to be useful to derive efficient algorithms in a unified manner (i.e., not depending on a particular pattern of structure). The latter technique allows one to "compress," in a unified way, different types of n x n structured matrices to only $alpha n$ parameters. This typically leads to computational savings (in many applications the number $alpha$, called the displacement rank, is a small fixed constant).In this paper we demonstrate the power of the displacement structure approach by deriving in a unified way efficient algorithms for a number of decoding problems. We accelerate the Sudan's list decoding algorithm for Reed-Solomon codes, its generalization to algebraic- geometric codes by Shokrollahi and Wasserman, and the improvement of Guruswami and Sudan in the case of Reed-Solomon codes. In particular, we notice that matrices that occur in the context of list decoding have low displacement rank, and use this fact to derive algorithms that use $O(n^2 l)$ and $O(n^7/3 l)$ operations over the base field for list decoding of Reed- Solomon codes and algebraic-geometric codes from certain plane curves, respectively. Here l denotes the length of the list; assuming that l is constant, this gives algorithms of running time $O(n^2)$ and $O(n^7/3)$, which is the same as the running time of conventional decoding algorithms. We also present efficient parallel algorithms for the above tasks.To the best of our knowledge this is the first application of the concept of displacement rank to the unified derivation of several decoding algorithms; the technique can be useful in finding efficient and fast methods for solving other decoding problems