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Ex-Carolina Aide Encourages USM Aide To Join Spurrier’s Staff

During the 2011 football season, Steve Spurrier raised eyebrows with occasional digs at his defense.  The rumor mill began to spin.  Spurrier and Ellis Johnson — Carolina’s de facto defensive coordinator — were no longer seeing eye to eye.

When Johnson left his home state of South Carolina to take over as head coach at Southern Miss, some took it as a sign that there really had been a growing gulf between the Cock’s top two coaches.

But the words of Carolina’s new secondary coach — former USM and Johnson assistant Grady Brown — suggest otherwise:

“(Johnson) was really good about me coming here.  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 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.”

Johnson had decided to hang onto Brown, convincing him to return to Hattiesburg rather than depart for North Carolina with Larry Fedora.  Impressive then that he would encourage Brown to follow up on the opportunity presented by Spurrier and the Gamecock program.

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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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SEC Headlines – 12/16/11

Thanks for bearing with us the last couple of days.  We’ll be back to a full day’s work on Monday.  (Meanwhile, Mike and Josh will continue to handle weekend and recruiting news as usual.)

Here are your Friday headlines…

1.  Auburn will try to get its passing game cranked up in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

2.  The Tigers have sold about 15,000 of their 16,000 tickets to the game.

3.  Arkansas’ Joe Adams is an All-American.

4.  The hoops Hogs start a seven-game homestand tomorrow.

5.  LSU has started its title game preps for Alabama.

6.  The roundball Tigers shot just 31% last night… but they still managed to beat UC-Irvine.

7.  MSU cornerback Darius Slay is now playing a big role for the Bulldogs.

8.  Ole Miss is already keeping an eye on the RPI.

9.  Transfer Jelan Kendrick seems to be getting off on the wrong foot in Oxford.

10.  Florida is having struggles at the free throw line.

11.  Georgia’s Outback Bowl tickets are all sold out.

12.  The UGA hoops team will travel to Italy next summer.

13.  Chattanooga’s coach expects to run into a ticked Kentucky team after the Cats’ loss to Indiana.

14.  Are folks being too tough on UK’s Terrence Jones?

15.  South Carolina’s top defensive coach, Ellis Johnson, interviewed for the Southern Miss head coaching spot yesterday.

16.  An announcement from USM could come soon.

17.  Meanwhile, the Cocks are getting ready for their bowl date with Nebraska.

18.  New Tennessee AD Dave Hart wants to see “progress” from Derek Dooley’s program next year.

19.  The Vol hoops team is on its first four-game losing streak since 2004-05.

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Egg Bowl Preview? Mullen, Fedora Trade Barbs

As noted earlier today, Larry Fedora is figuring prominently in Ole Miss’ search for a new head coach.  He’ll likely win a few Rebel fans to his corner with a barb he tossed toward Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen… a coach who has tossed his own barbs at UM for three years.

After Saturday’s Egg Bowl win, Mullen said:

“Hopefully the kids in the state of Mississippi understand this is the place to come to win championships.”

Said the man who’d just finished up a 6-6 regular season.  While Mullen dart was clearly aimed at Ole Miss, Fedora — who is at Southern Miss — took notice.  And it just so happens his team is 10-2 on the season and is heading into a C-USA title game with Houston this weekend.  His reply to Mullen’s boast:

“We’re proud of the fact that all the great players from the state of Mississippi on this team have an opportunity to actually play for a championship.”


If you thought Mullen would allow Fedora to have the final word, however, you don’t know Mullen.  Told of USM’s coach’s comments, MSU’s coach said:

“It’s neat for them that they get to play in that championship game, obviously it’s not the Southeastern Conference.”

There’s a slim chance that Mullen and Fedora could meet up in the Liberty Bowl this season if the Music City Bowl passes on State, if USM loses to Houston, and if the two in-state schools agree to meet in Memphis.

Perhaps our best hope of seeing this two go head-to-head is for Mullen to stay put in Starkville and for Fedora to land the job in Oxford.  First man to an actual SEC championship wins.

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