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Carolina’s Johnson To Be Head Coach At USM

In a blow to the South Carolina football program, the Gamecocks’ top defensive assistant, Ellis Johnson, will be taking over as head coach at Southern Miss according to The Jackson Clarion-Ledger.  The hire is expected to be made official today.  With Larry Fedora coaching USM once last time in their bowl game, it’s expected that Johnson will stay with USC for its Capital One Bowl date with Nebraska.

Johnson was in Hattiesburg interviewing for a second time with the school yesterday.  The 59-year-old — who turns 60 on Friday — once served as an assistant at USM in 1988 and 1989.

He has served as defensive coordinator at Clemson (1995-1996), Alabama (1997-2000), Mississippi State (2004-2007) and at South Carolina since ’07.  From 2001 to 2003 he served as the head coach of The Citadel.

Steve Spurrier’s turnaround of the Carolina program can be traced to two things: recruiting and defense.  Oddly enough, the Ol’ Ball Coach’s offense has not just found a way to take flight in Columbia.  A quick look at the Cocks’ D under Johnson shows how much improvement has been made on his watch:

2007 — 9th in total defense (SEC), 56th in total defense (nation)
2008 — 4th in total defense (SEC), 13th in total defense (nation)
2009 — 3rd in total defense (SEC), 15th in total defense (nation)
2010 — 7th in total defense (SEC), 46th in total defense (nation)
2011 — 4th in total defense (SEC), 4th in total defense (nation)

Clearly, Johnson has played a big role in changing the fortunes of his homestate school. 

This isn’t to say, of course, that Spurrier can’t find a new coordinator to fill Johnson’s shoes.  After all, he was the man who grabbed Johnson in the first place.

But it does mean the Cocks will have to wade out into the coaching pool and compete with the likes of Auburn for a top coordinator.  Better get out the checkbook.

Johnson was making $750,000 in Columbia as the “assistant head coach for defense.”  Lorenzo Ward actually bears the title of “defensive coordinator.”  So it’s possible that Spurrier will simply promote Ward if he feels he’s got the chops to run the show on his own.



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