Spurrier hires for Mississippi St. assistant Ellis Johnson to be new defensive coordinator Print
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Thursday, 24 January 2008 14:25
NCAAF Headline News

 COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier hired a defensive coordinator for the second time in five weeks, luring Ellis Johnson away from Arkansas in the latest move of a job-jumping spree involving Southeastern Conference schools and the Atlanta Falcons.
Spurrier hired Johnson on Thursday only hours after the head ball coach's previous hire, Brian VanGorder, told Spurrier he was rejoining the Falcons and their new head coach, Mike Smith.
Spurrier hopes he's finally found the full-time replacement for Tyrone Nix, who left South Carolina after the season to become defensive coordinator at Mississippi.
Spurrier spoke with Johnson, a former Citadel head coach and South Carolina native, briefly before selecting VanGorder last month.
``You might ask, 'Why didn't you hire him the first time?''' Spurrier said. ``I should have. I really should have.''
Maybe then Spurrier could've cut short a flurry of coaching changes.
VanGorder came to Spurrier on Thursday morning with a dilemma. His friend, Smith, had been hired by Atlanta, where VanGorder had spent last season coaching linebackers under Bobby Petrino, who left before season's end to take the Arkansas head coaching job.
VanGorder said last month he was ready to put his NFL days behind and find stability with the Gamecocks.
So much for that.
Spurrier empathized with VanGorder, telling him he had to do what he felt was best and wished him well on his sixth job change since 2004. Soon after, Spurrier tracked down Johnson to ask if he was still interested, even though Johnson had been hired earlier this month as Arkansas defensive coordinator by Petrino.
Johnson, who spent the past four seasons coordinating Mississippi State's defense, agreed to come aboard.
The Gamecocks job came open when Nix left for Ole Miss and its new coach, Houston Nutt, who resigned his longtime position at .... Arkansas, of course.
``At the end of the day, hopefully everyone's happy,'' Spurrier said. ``Arkansas may not be too happy right now.''
Johnson said after 32 years in coaching, little surprises him. He was thrilled, though, to return to his native state.
``It was probably the last thing on my mind when I got up, but I was really happy when he called,'' Johnson said.
Spurrier said Johnson will receive a three-year contract, the same length as VanGorder's deal.
Spurrier said little was disrupted with VanGorder's departure since the new coach had not been entrenched in recruiting or planning.
Johnson has spent much of his three decades of coaching as a defensive coordinator, serving in that capacity at Mississippi State (2004-07), Alabama (1997-2000), Clemson (1994-96), Southern Miss (1988-89) and Appalachian State (1984).
Johnson said Petrino was disappointed.
``Coach Petrino's handled it with class. He's been in this profession long enough to understand these things,'' Johnson said. ``He's been through a very tough, demanding change himself recently.''
In a statement, Petrino said he spoke with Johnson ``and he felt like this is the best decision for his family. I certainly understand that.''
Johnson hadn't signed a contract with Arkansas. His wife and three young children were driving from Mississippi to Arkansas when Spurrier's job offer changed plans once again.
``You never know where you end up,'' Johnson said. ``I've always had getting back to the state of South Carolina on the major college level in my sights.''
 

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