Players react to hiring of Ellis Johnson

When Ellis Johnson was named South Carolina's new defensive coordinator on Jan. 24 after then-defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder bolted for the NFL, Johnson got what he had wanted for some time: the opportunity to come home and coach in the state of South Carolina. Read inside for comments from several of USC's current players on the hiring of Johnson and what they expect from the veteran DC.

Johnson has spent many years coaching in the Palmetto State, including time as a player and Head Coach at The Citadel, defensive coordinator at Clemson, as well as Head Coach in the SC High School ranks at Gaffney High and Spartanburg High, among other jobs. After wanting to get back to his roots for a while, the Winnsboro, SC native finally has his chance as Steve Spurrier's DC for the Gamecocks.

While it's obvious Johnson is happy with his return to the state of South Carolina, caught up with some of South Carolina's defensive players to see how they feel about the addition of the 27 year coaching veteran to the USC coaching staff.

According to senior middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley he had already gotten to know Johnson's predecessor, VanGorder, but the players have come together to deal with the unfortunate events that led to VanGorder leaving for the NFL after being on the job for less than a month.

"I had an opportunity to start building a relationship with Coach VanGorder. I think it was coming along pretty good. We had high expectations, but you know life throws different cards at you sometimes so you just have got to go with what you've got," Brinkley said. "We look within each other to stay strong in situations like this."

Brinkley has certain expectations for what Johnson brings to the table as a DC.

"I know he's going to coach us real good. I have a good friend that played at Mississippi State that was coached by Coach Johnson. He gave him good praise (and) said he was a great coach."

South Carolina senior defensive tackle Jonathan Williams already has a special knowledge of his new defensive coordinator, as he was once committed to Mississippi State when Johnson was DC there, before he ultimately signed with the Gamecocks in the class of 2007.

"Yes, yes I did (get to meet Johnson before)," Williams said as his face lit up into a big smile. "I still think he's a wonderful coach, and I still would love to play for him. I'll be happy to have him."

Other players have already gained knowledge about Johnson from friends that played under him at Mississippi State.

"Yeah, my friend, Anthony Littlejohn, he plays for Mississippi State right now. He's a senior linebacker, and I was talking to him on the phone yesterday. He was telling me he is a real cool person, but at the same time he is serious about his job," junior linebacker Gerrod Sinclair said. "He loves to coach football. His heart is in college football, and he's a great coach. He was telling me he is a great, want-to-be-physical coach, and that's what we need."

Most of the players agree Johnson will bring a physical defense to South Carolina for the 2009 season and beyond.

"I've heard he is a good coach. He's been at Mississippi State doing a good job. They had the No. 5 defense in the SEC, so they've been doing good. I'm looking forward to it," said junior safety Emanuel Cook.

While most players have kept up with the situation, some of them are just simply ready to play regardless of who their coach is.

"I'm fine with it. I'm all about change," said defensive back early enrollee Jay Spearman.

Junior defensive end and team leader Eric Norwood has kept his eyes and ears open about his new coach.

"I know some stuff about him from guys who I played with him and other guys who played against him," Norwood said. "They say he is just an all-around good coach, hard-nosed tough guy, (who) likes to keep it simple and let us go around and play hard."

Norwood also believes the fact Johnson has wanted the South Carolina job for so long will play a big role for the Gamecocks.

"I mean nothing against VanGorder, he's a good guy, but Coach Johnson has been wanting to be here for the longest (time), so I think it's only going to make him want to work harder. And it's only going to make us want to work harder. I'm excited. I think we're going to be pretty good, all around next year."

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