The Saga Continues
As the USC football program ended its eighth day without a defensive coordinator, the big news of the day was the surprise hiring of not a new defensive coordinator but a new special teams coordinator, Ray Rychleski. When informed that his hiring technically put South Carolina with one more coach than the rules allow, Rychleski joked that Steve Spurrier could just name him defensive coordinator as well as the position he was just hired for and save some money.
Spurrier proved he has the ability to surprise people with his choices, catching even staff members off guard Tuesday with the hiring of Rychleski, and with the coordinator slot remaining open, the new addition indicates further changes will be upcoming in the Gamecock staff.
Leading candidates for the defensive coordinator job appear to be Brian Van Gorder and Ellis Johnson, with other possibilities being Jon Tenuta and Reggie Herring.
Tuesday morning dawned with the strong impression that current Mississippi State defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson was the leading candidate to replace the departed Tyrone Nix, who left to take the same position at Mississippi. Both Johnson and Nix profess that a strong part of their motivation for changing jobs is "going home." Nix played his college ball and began his coaching career in Mississippi; Johnson is a Winnsboro, SC native, who is married to a Columbia native and former Clemson cheerleader who would like to come home to the Palmetto state.
Johnson's first public statement confirmed his interest in the position. He told the media, "It's home, it's my wife's home, it's another great SEC program, another great head coach, and for many of those personal reasons and other reasons I'm certainly going to express my interest."
Perceptions of Johnson's imminent candidacy were altered as the day progressed. Sources stated that Johnson would accept the position if offered, but GamecockAnthem confirmed from sources at both schools that as of this writing, Johnson has not been offered the defensive coordinator position at USC. That does not mean that an offer will not be made, as discussions continued during the day. "Nothing has changed," Johnson said Tuesday. "Coach Spurrier and I have had ongoing conversations that I'm sure he's had with other candidates, and that's where it is." MSU Head Coach Sylvester Croom confirmed that Georgia Tech also received permission to speak to Johnson about becoming defensive coordinator for the Yellowjackets on Tuesday. Johnson also interviewed for the Maryland defensive coordinator job last year. Johnson is not known for his recruiting acumen, but is reported to do well relating to recruits when they come in for their visits to MSU.
Sources in Starkville told GamecockAnthem that Mississippi State would not be able to match the $300-400,000 that USC is expected to offer its next coordinator. While Bulldog supporters steeled themselves for the potential loss of Johnson, they heartened at the news that MSU would step up and increase the salaries of other assistant coaches who were thought to be vulnerable to more attractive salary offers at USC and elsewhere. Croom stated Tuesday his #1 priority was to maintain his current staff as much as possible. "It's the No. 1 priority," Croom said. "With the job changes now and the escalation of salaries that's going around the conference, if we don't keep up, we're quite vulnerable to losing many of the members of our staff."
Much of the public discussion of a Johnson hire at South Carolina focused on the possibility of his bringing with him current MSU assistants Charlie Harbison and David Turner, but reports out of Starkville Tuesday indicated that both Harbison and Turner would be receiving raises at MSU and are expected to remain in Starkville.
The Clarion-Ledger newspaper in Mississippi published figures showing Johnson's current salary of $200,000 to be at the bottom of the SEC for coordinators.
Georgia Tech fired Head Coach Chan Gailey and then hired Navy's Paul Johnson to replace him. Tech Interim head coach and defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta has declined to comment on his future beyond the Humanitarian Bowl game, and while he may remain in Atlanta, he has also been linked to the opening at South Carolina as well as the opening at LSU. Ellis Johnson is reported to be the fourth coach with whom Paul Johnson has spoken about the defensive coordinator position, but Paul Johnson declined to say whether Tenuta was one of the four people he has interviewed for the job.
Paul Johnson said of Ellis Johnson, "It will be interesting to sit down and talk some football and see how close our philosophies mesh." The two men will meet Wednesday, and Paul Johnson said he hopes to hire a defensive coordinator by the end of the week.
Tenuta's contract at Georgia Tech pays him $400,000 for 2007 and $212,500 for the first six months of 2008, the kind of money to which Johnson and other coordinators would like to attain.
Sources in Louisiana told GamecockAnthem Tuesday night that the Bayou Bengals' primary focus is currently on preparing for their national championship game against Ohio State, but that Head Coach Les Miles expressed no worries when asked about finding a new defensive coordinator, leading insiders there to speculate he has already chosen a replacement for Bo Pelini, who left to take the head job at Nebraska. That speculation focuses primarily on two coaches, Tenuta and current LSU defensive backs Coach Doug Mallory.
One other coach who is known to have expressed interest in the South Carolina position is current Arkansas defensive coordinator and interim head coach Reggie Herring. Should Herring replace Nix, the new Mississippi head coach and USC coach Steve Spurrier would essentially have swapped coordinators. Herring is currently a lame duck, with Nutt gone to Mississippi, and having filled the DC position there with Nix; and new Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino having given no indication so far that he is interested in retaining Herring. Herring is also receiving strong interest from Texas A&M about becoming their defensive coordinator under new head coach Mike Sherman.
Herring spent eight seasons under head coaches Tommy West and Tommy Bowden at Clemson, from 1994-2001, the last five years as defensive coordinator for the Tigers. He coached for two years in the NFL before becoming the defensive coordinator at NC State. In Herring's one season with the Wolfpack, they led the nation in total defense, allowing just 221.36 yards per game after giving up 421 and ranking No. 89 the previous year. NCSU also led the nation in pass efficiency defense (91.77), was second in total pass defense (119), 13th in rushing defense (102.36) and 25th in scoring (19.82).
Ironically, one of the leading candidates mentioned to replace Herring at Arkansas is the other coach perceived to be a leading candidate at South Carolina, current Atlanta Falcon assistant coach and former Georgia Bulldog defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder.
Some sources have told GamecockAnthem that Van Gorder has now moved to the top of the list in USC's defensive coordinator search, and we will have a more detailed focus on him tomorrow. Van Gorder became a college coach in 1989, and is best known for his four years as defensive coordinator at the University of Georgia from 2001 to 2005. While there, he won the Frank Broyles Assistant Coach of the Year Award in 2003. The knock on Van Gorder has been how frequently he has changed jobs in recent years. Counting his last year in Athens, his next job will be his fifth in five years, though being a lame duck in Atlanta due to Petrino's abrupt departure to Arkansas certainly can't be held against him. In 2005 he was with the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars as their linebacker coach. In 2006 he moved to Georgia Southern to be their Head Coach, but left abruptly after only one year and a 3-8 record to return to the NFL as the Falcons Linebacker Coach.
Former Mississippi Head Coach Ed Orgeron made his reputation as a defensive coordinator and has been mentioned as a candidate at USC, but at this time he is expected to return to the west coast, most likely rejoining Pete Carroll at Southern Cal. Jamie Newberg of Scout.com stated, "It will be real interesting to see where Coach O ends up because he's such an excellent recruiter." Newberg named Orgeron "recruiter of the year" in 2006.
Current Florida co-defensive coordinator Charlie Strong has also reportedly expressed interest in returning to Columbia. Florida won the national championship last year with Strong as their DC, and sources told GamecockAnthem that Strong's somewhat surprising interest in the Gamecock program is due to the fact that Florida head coach Urban Meyer and the staff he brought in with him seem to get all the credit for the Gator's success. Strong also is reported to chafe at only being the co-coordinator at UF, despite calling all the plays for the Gator defense. Strong is also known for his respect for USC's Spurrier.
USC fans recognized the restrictions placed by former Head Coach Lou Holtz on their former offensive coordinator Skip Holtz, and are supportive of the younger Holtz in his new position as the head coach at East Carolina. Strong was also limited by restrictions placed on him by Holtz, but a large contingent of Gamecock fans do not give him the same leeway they give Skip Holtz, and a possible return of Strong to USC would be questioned by some.
Stay tuned to GamecockAnthem for the latest breaking news in the search for a new coordinator and other possible coaching changes.
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