Q&A: One-on-one with Ellis Johnson

In part one of this in-depth question and answer with former South Carolina assistant head coach Ellis Johnson, the new Southern Miss head coach discusses his time at South Carolina, what it was like watching the bowl on TV, why he chose not to coach the bowl and how things went down with USM and USC basically swapping Grady Brown and Jeep Hunter.

One on one with Ellis Johnson: Part 1

Gamecock Anthem: Was there a moment you could single out as being your favorite time at South Carolina?

Ellis Johnson: I don't know, I don't think I could. I don't think I could pick any one particular time that was the only special time. I'm trying to rack my brain a little bit, but one particular game doesn't jump out that much. It's kind of strange, I thought we had a better football team this year than the year we went to the SEC game, that was just sort of a weird year. When you look at that, you say we went to the SEC game one year and didn't the next year, but I don't know, it's hard to single any one thing out.

GA: Where did you watch the Capital One Bowl and how weird was it watching from afar?

EJ: Well, it was fun. I had been extremely busy having taken the job a few days before Christmas. It was kind of a hectic time trying to travel back and forth, see family, put together a staff, all that, and I was really completely distracted. I just told somebody, I'm going to take some time out that day when that game is on, and I just went back to the patio home that someone is letting me use, and was able to sit there and just watch it by myself a little bit, and wasn't distracted. It was in some ways really hard, because you've been around kids for a long time, won championships with them, you've recruited some of them, not to be able to coach them.

But, frankly, I was really excited watching the game -- it was fun to watch them play, [because] it was sort of like being able to be a little bit more objective rather than sitting there right in the middle of it. I just think that's the right way to do things. It seems like the best thing to stay and coach a bowl game the first 24-48 hours. But after you're there, and your minds on another program, and your attention's on another program, I think you become a distraction and you become something that becomes more about you than it does about the team, and I don't think that's the right way to do things, and that's why I chose not to coach the bowl game.

GA: Coach Spurrier made the decision to go ahead and promote Lorenzo Ward when they got to Orlando. How happy were you for him and how ready is he to run the show himself?

EJ: Well, I thought it was very good that coach had that confidence in him. I don't think it's any of my business, frankly, what they do when I left. But having worked with him, I'm sure he's ready. Hopefully, this will be a good positive experience for him, being the first time. Never having done it before, you always want that first time to be a good, positive experience, and I think that he's more than ready. Sometimes you just have to get your chance, and now he's going to get his. The first thing you've got to have is good players and I certainly think they have that.

GA: It was a kind of strange situation that Grady Brown left Southern Miss for South Carolina, and then you ended up picking up Jeep Hunter. Can you shed some light on how that went down?

EJ: When I was looking at the staff here and trying to formulate my staff, I was researching on it [and] actually Lorenzo was one of the people who knew Grady. So, I called him, and he said he saw him coach, I think when he was at Alabama A&M or Alabama State, and so he had seen him practice a little bit and seen him coach and thought he was a good field coach, and that was a reference for me. So, when the change in staff occurred up there, it didn't surprise me that he wanted to consider him as one of the people that he needed to hire. But I think it worked out good. They needed a corners coach with the way they were structuring a staff, and it just so turned out, we needed a safeties coach here, so getting Coach Hunter, it all worked out for everybody. Jeep had worked for me at Clemson, and had worked for Tommy West at Clemson, and of course Tommy's my coordinator here, then he worked for Coach West at Memphis, so it was a good fit. But I encouraged Grady that when you're a young coach like that and haven't had that opportunity to coach at that level or that conference that it was an opportunity he probably needed to take, because it might not come around again.

GA: Switching gears a little, some have Melvin Ingram projected as high as the No. 7 player in the draft. What's it been like to watch him progress in his time at USC and see it probably pay off big now?

EJ: Well, I'm hoping it's going to end up being a very positive ending. You know I had him at linebacker the first year that I got there, and he had played that fall at linebacker, and frankly, I think physical ability[-wise] that's what he is. He was very unselfish in moving to another position for us, and the first move was to interior defensive line, which I feel like he played out of position for us and did it unselfishly because we were thin at that spot. As we built that spot back up and was able to move him back outside, I thought that he was able to use his athleticism, and still, I think, could have been more versatile for us. (Eric) Norwood was sort of the rover, if you will, that was doing all those things, while Melvin was unselfishly doing his role, and then Norwood left and Melvin was able to step in and do some of the same things. I think it's obvious that they love his athleticism, his physical talent, but he's done a lot of different things, and it kind of hurt his progress as a college player, but in the long run, I think some of the pro people have looked at that as a big-time plus, because they've seen him inside, outside, up front, they've seen him play a little stand-up linebacker, so I just think it will all work to his advantage in the long run, so I really hope he has a good combine and everything keep going in a positive direction. The word that just pops out in my mind is versatile and unselfish and over the years that he was with us, I really admired that about him.

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