Bio: December 23, 1951
Education: The Citadel (1974)
Defensive Scheme: 4-2-5
Coaching stops: The Citadel defensive end/linebackers coach, Gardner-Webb head coach, Appalachian State defensive coordinator, East Carolina assistant, Southern Miss defensive coordinator, Alabama outside linebackers coach, Clemson defensive coordinator, Alabama defensive coordinator, The Citadel head coach, Mississippi State defensive coordinator, South Carolina defensive coordinator/assistant head coach, Southern Miss head coach
When Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops officially accepted the head coaching position at Kentucky last week, it was pretty well understood that he would take FSU defensive ends coach D.J. Eliot with him. Now that it's official, the question becomes who will Jimbo Fisher bring in to replace the two.
On the same day that Stoops accepted his new position, Ellis Johnson was also fired by Southern Miss and automatically became a top name for Fisher to look at. Johnson was also in the running when Fisher brought on Stoops the first time around.
It goes without saying that Stoops did a terrific job with the FSU defense in his three seasons, but there are also some areas that he could have been better and Fisher will certainly look to hire someone who is a bit more aggressive schematically.
Pros: Johnson has 16 years of experience being a defensive coordinator at the college ranks but has never been afforded quite the level of talent Florida State has. Also whereas many candidates see this job as a perfect stepping stone to a head coaching position, Johnson has had three separate head coaching stints and its hard to imagine him wanting to get another one at the age of 61. Johnson's defensive philosophy could thrive with the personnel at FSU. Also, it's clear that Fisher wants somebody that has experience in the SEC, a place that Johnson has spent the majority of his career.
The basics of Johnson's 4-2-5 defense
The 4-2-5 scheme that Johnson runs is built around versatile players who can align themselves in a number of different ways to create confusion for the offense. Many people often refer to it as a nickel formation, however there are a number of differences between the two. The primary difference is that the fifth defensive back is more of a hybrid LB/SS than a nickel back. In Johsnon's scheme this player is referred to as the spur because it plays more of a run-support/blitzing/underneath coverage role than a typical nickel back that typically plays deep zone coverage or lines up with the slot receiver. Karlos Williams who just saw his first action at linebacker against Georgia Tech would be one special player at the spur position. A smart athletic spur is one of the big keys to a dominating 4-2-5.
The second key personnel difference is the weak-side, or "Jack," linebacker who plays more of a pass rush/defensive end role. Again, the key to this defense is having multiple players who are versatile and can play multiple roles. This allows you run a variety of schemes on the field without tipping your hand by changing personnel constantly. Christian Jones fits the "Jack" linebacker role perfectly and would go along way in helping to fix the defensive end situation FSU has, assuming Werner opts to go pro. There are many other smaller tweaks that allow this defense to be successful but these two are the most important and FSU has the personnel to make it work.
Cons: The only real negative that comes with Johnson is his age, not that it's a bad thing to be 61, but for the simple fact that he's been around for a long time and many question whether he still has the same fire he once did. The only other aspect that some people see as a con is in recruiting. How many guys want to play for a 61-year old? Not sure I'm in a position to answer that, but he does have a ton of ties in the Carolinas that's for sure. Jadeveon Clowney didn't seem to mind either.
In sum, I think that Johnson is definitely at the top of the short list of candidates that Fisher will give a hard look at. He would be a great hire that fisher wouldn't have to worry about leaving for another job. If he is committed, and can still recruit, I see Johnson being a great fit for what Fisher wants to bring in.