Skip to main content
Partner logo
Mobile Icon Link Mobile Icon Link Mobile Icon Link Gamecocks+

Jan. 24, 2008


Ellis Johnson Named Defensive Coordinator

South Carolina Head Coach Steve Spurrier
We’ve had a little activity today as you all know. Brian VanGorder came to me and said he had the opportunity to be defensive coordinator with big money increase and so forth. I said Brian if that’s something you want to do that’s fine. We all understand and wish Brian the very best with the Atlanta Falcons.

In the meantime I went to visit one of our recruits. I called Ellis Johnson to see if he still had some interest in being the defensive coordinator here. Fortunately Ellis still did, we talked a bit and worked out a deal for Ellis to come to South Carolina to be the defensive coordinator.

You might say why didn’t you hire him the first time. The answer is I should have. Ellis has a long history in college football. He’s a very sound, solid defensive coordinator. I noticed this year Mississippi State finished fifth in total defense. I think most of you saw the Liberty Bowl against Central Florida with their tailback Kevin Smith averaging about 3.4 yards per carry. Mississippi State won that game 10-3 with good defense.

Ellis is a guy that knows how to soundly coach a defense. He’s from Winnsboro and seemed very excited about wanting to come. He had a goal to come back to South Carolina and it’s happening. To borrow one of those NFL expressions, at the end of the day hopefully everyone’s happy. I think we got a top-notch defensive coordinator, one of the best in the country.

On moving quickly to hire Johnson
Things happen quickly in the coaching profession. Fortunately right now none of those coaches bought houses. In fact I don’t think any of them have signed contracts so it’s a clean move. As head coaches we understand. That’s part of our profession. At the end of the day it’s going to work out very well for the University of South Carolina.

On why he hired VanGorder first
I interviewed Brian first. Brian’s an impressive coach. The opportunity to go back to the NFL was something I think he wanted to do. Financially it was too good of a deal. Ellis really wants to come here and I’ll let him tell you all of that. Anyway it worked out.

On when he found out VanGorder was leaving
I just got wind this morning. He came in and said I’m sort of stuck here. He told me what had happened. He had an opportunity to go. Really when you more than double your salary in life, not many of you stay in the same place.

On coaching changes
He had been here about three weeks. He had been recruiting. It’s a chain reaction – coaching. His friend Mike Smith got the job with the Atlanta Falcons and gave an opportunity to Brian.

On coaches changing their minds
You get an offer you can’t refuse sometimes and so forth. Coaches move around a little bit more than maybe in the past. It’s a better opportunity. I had a chance a year or so ago to get more money but that’s not my deal anymore. Money’s not my deal. It’s all about we can win an SEC (championship) here. It’s not going to be easy but that’s our goal.

Defensive Coordinator Ellis Johnson
It’s different. It’s a delicate time of the year with recruiting. It’s the nature of the business now.

On if he was looking to return to his home state
We have. I was raised there as a young person in South Carolina. I was raised as a football coach in the high schools, colleges and universities of South Carolina. Hopefully this is my last stop.

On if he was surprised to receive the call from Coach Spurrier
After 32 years nothing surprises me, but it was unusual. I know he talked to several candidates and he hired a good man. I was happy to get the call this morning and look forward to it. Coach Spurrier is a proven winner. I’ve coached against him maybe nine times and know first hand.

On his familiarity with South Carolina’s personnel and initial thoughts
We played them the last two years when I was at Mississippi State. They signed extremely good, young defensive players. I’m excited about the state of South Carolina in recruiting. They’ve recruited excellent defensive players in the recruiting classes the last couple of years. I’m excited about the potential of the program.

On how quickly he anticipates coming to Columbia
I hope by early next week. We haven’t had a chance to really discus that.

On if he resigned himself to the fact that he might never have worked at South Carolina
Not really. All of those circumstances (in the past) I hoped would work out. When they didn’t that’s just the nature of the business. I never saw Arkansas in my future (beforehand). I never gave up on it but I didn’t dwell on it.

On defensive philosophy
My philosophy about defense is simple – get the most speed on the field you can get and make sure your team compliments that. Defense is all about tackling, fundamentals and making pursuit at the opportune angles. Speed, speed, speed. I definitely believe in a seven-man front. I think you have to have four down linemen and three linebackers or four linebackers and three down linemen.

On if South Carolina will be his last stop
It will be my last stop only if we’re successful. You can go out and look for all the talent but if they don’t want to be in your program, they won’t make the contributions. I think that’s the truth with hiring coaches.