Former South Carolina Assistant Head Coach Ellis Johnson was officially named the head coach at the University of Southern Mississippi Tuesday afternoon in a press conference by Southern Miss President Martha Saunders. Back in Columbia, Johnson's former team continued preparations for the Capital One Bowl in Orlando.
"We congratulate Coach Ellis Johnson getting the head coaching job at Southern Miss," South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier said Tuesday night. "We're happy that people out there consider our coaches as good coaches and qualified to be head coaches. We appreciate everything Ellis and his family has done here at South Carolina and we wish him the best out there."
There was hope that Johnson would return to Columbia to coach the bowl game before taking over at Southern Miss full time, but Johnson said he planned to begin right away.
"I talked to him briefly and I think the President would like him to be out there, so Lorenzo Ward will serve as interim defensive coordinator and be ready to run the defense in the bowl game," Spurrier said.
Johnson led a defense that was one of the best in the nation in 2012. The Gamecock defense gave up an average of just 269 yards per game and was one of the stingiest defenses in the country, forcing 30 turnovers.
"Certainly it was a good time for Ellis to get the job," Johnson said. "Gosh, we were fourth in the nation in total defense and he's been the coordinator here for (four) years. He's done a super job and put him in position to get the head job."
Johnson becomes the second coach to leave Carolina after Jay Graham left to take over the running back coaching duties at his Alma Mater, Tennessee. With Ward serving as defensive coordinator all season, there should not be much of a drop off in defense.
"I hope not any," Spurrier said. "Like the running back/tight end coach (Graham) is not with us. Our guys have practiced pretty well all year. Hopefully we'll know what to do. We'll see, but our defensive coaches are ready to handle it and we'll go from there."
Spurrier already has a list of prospects in mind to replace Johnson, but will likely wait until after the January 2nd bowl game to begin the search.
"I have several guys in mind," Spurrier said. "Certainly Coach Ward will be strongly considered, as well as several others. Sort of interesting how many people are calling. I don't know if 10 or 20 years ago people wanted to coach at South Carolina, but there's a bunch of them out there now that would love to come here."
Spurrier's phone has been ringing off the hook since news broke of Johnson's departure. The opportunity to coach one of the nation's top defenses with the talent returning and the possibility of Stephon Gilmore, DeVonte Holloman, D.J. Swearinger, and Devin Taylor returning for their senior seasons will make the Carolina defensive coordinator position one of the premier coaching vacancies this season.
"I think it's because we're winning," Spurrier said. "It's a good place. I just happen to be the head coach. What we've done the last few years, it's a good place to live, a wonderful university, President Pastides is the best, and Eric Hyman's a pretty good guy too. I think we have a lot of good people in the right places."
Spurrier speaks on Johnson departure
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