Ellis Johnson (American football coach)

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Ellis Johnson
Sport(s) Football
Current position
Annual salary $800,000
Biographical details
Born (1951-12-23) December 23, 1951 (age 63)
Winnsboro, South Carolina
Alma mater The Citadel
Playing career
1971–1974 The Citadel
Position(s) Defensive end
Coaching career (HC unless noted)
The Citadel (DE)
Gaffney HS (DC)
Spartanburg HS (DC)
Spartanburg HS
The Citadel (LB)
Appalachian State (DC)
East Carolina (OLB)
Southern Miss (DC)
Alabama (OLB)
Clemson (DC)
Alabama (DC)
The Citadel
Mississippi State (DC)
South Carolina (AHC/LB)
Southern Miss
Auburn (DC)
Head coaching record
Overall 17–40

Laurens Ellis Johnson[1] (born December 23, 1951) is an American football coach and former player. He was the defensive coordinator at Auburn University. He served as head football coach at Gardner–Webb University in 1983, The Citadel from 2001 to 2003, and the University of Southern Mississippi in 2012, compiling a career college football record of 17 wins and 40 losses.

Assistant coaching career[edit]

Johnson began his coaching career following his graduation from The Citadel in 1975, as the defensive ends coach at his alma mater under Bobby Ross in 1975. In 1976, Johnson accepted an assistant coaching position at Gaffney High School.[2] He served as an assistant at Gaffney through the 1978 season before taking the defensive coordinator position at Spartanburg High School in 1979. After one season as defensive coordinator at Spartanburg, Johnson was promoted to head coach in 1980 and held the position through the 1981 season.[3] As head coach he led the Vikings to a pair of playoff appearances and an overall record of 16 wins and eight losses (16–8).[3] Johnson resigned his position to take the linebackers coach position at The Citadel.[3]

After his one season at Gardner–Webb, Johnson served as an assistant at Appalachian State, East Carolina and Southern Miss before being hired at Alabama by Gene Stallings for the 1990 season. At Alabama, Johnson served as linebackers coach and was on the staff that won the 1992 national championship. He resigned from Alabama after the 1993 season to become the defensive coordinator at Clemson.[4] After three years at Clemson, Johnson returned to Alabama in January 1997 to serve as defensive coordinator for head coach Mike DuBose.[5] He served at Alabama through the 2000 season when he was hired as head coach at The Citadel.[6]

After his three-year tenure with The Citadel, Johnson served as defensive coordinator at both Mississippi State (2004–2007) and South Carolina (2008–2011). While serving at South Carolina the Gamecocks won the SEC Eastern Division championship for the first time in school history in 2010, clinching the title with a convincing 36–14 victory over the Florida Gators. It was a season of firsts for South Carolina, including their first win at Florida, first win over a No. 1 ranked team (Alabama), and first time sweeping the November "Orange Crush" portion of their schedule with wins over Tennessee, Florida and Clemson. Following a 9–3 regular season and an appearance in the SEC championship game. The Gamecocks had another strong season in 2011, beating every opponent in the division. With a 34-13 rout of Clemson, the Gamecocks won 10 games for only the second time in their 119-year football history.

In December 2011, Johnson took the head coaching position at Southern Miss. After one season, Johnson was fired from that position following the school's only zero-win season. After his dismissal from Southern Miss, on December 5, 2012, Johnson was hired as the defensive coordinator at Auburn.[7] In late November, 2014, reports began to surface on the internet claiming that Johnson's employment with Auburn University had been terminated. [8] Johnson's firing was made official later in the day. [9]

Head coaching career[edit]


After serving one season at The Citadel, on January 6, 1983, Johnson was named head coach at Gardner–Webb University.[10] During his only season at Gardner–Webb in 1983, he led the Runnin' Bulldogs squad to a five wins and six losses (5–6).[11] He resigned his position on January 10, 1984, to become the defensive coordinator for Mack Brown at Appalachian State.[12]

The Citadel[edit]

After serving three seasons as defensive coordinator at Alabama, on December 21, 2000, Johnson was named head coach at The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina.[13] During his three seasons at The Citadel from 2001 to 2003, he led the Bulldogs to 12 wins and 22 losses (12–22).[11] He resigned his position on December 15, 2003, to become the defensive coordinator for Sylvester Croom at Mississippi State.[14]

Southern Miss[edit]

Johnson was hired on December 20, 2011, as the Golden Eagles head coach.[15][16] At his introductory news conference he noted USM’s 18 straight winning seasons and said: "I am convinced you can always be successful."[17] He signed a four-year contract on August 20, 2012 (twelve days before the start of the 2012 season) that paid him a minimum of $740,000 annually, and was to run through December 23, 2015. In the event that Southern Miss decided to terminate the contract, Johnson would be paid $700,000 for each year left on his contract.[18]

Prior to Johnson's tenure, the Southern Miss football team had recorded eighteen straight winning seasons and been to ten consecutive postseason bowl appearances. In 2011, under Coach Larry Fedora, the Golden Eagles won a school record 12 games and finished in the Top 20 of both major polls after a victory in the 2011 Hawaii Bowl. Fedora departed for North Carolina after the 2011 season, yet the Golden Eagles were expected to experience continued success due to the fact that they would return 13 starters from the previous season. But the 2012 season quickly came unraveled due to a rash of injuries, and as a result, Johnson found himself dealing with an increasingly angry Golden Eagle fan base.[19]

The October 20, 2012, Marshall game resulted in the most points scored against Southern Miss at home since 1987, Brett Favre's freshman year.[20] Following USM's loss to Marshall, Paul Myerberg of USA Today wrote, "Southern Mississippi is having an awful year. Just a terrible, horrible, awful, disheartening, disappointing, aggravatingly horrendous year".[21] Dave Bartoo, owner/operator of the website cfbmatrix.com (College Football Matrix), a site that analyzes college football statistics based upon a given mathematical formula, recently told Bo Bounds of 105.9 The Zone in Jackson that Johnson had done “probably the worst coaching job I’ve seen in the matrix this century in (Football Bowl Subdivision) football.”[17] Southern Mississippi: minus-77. Sagarin Rating 122nd. Combine participant rating: tied for 45th (two).

Personal life[edit]

Johnson is married to the former Caroline Courie, a Columbia, South Carolina native and Clemson University graduate. They have two sons, Eli and Charlie, and a daughter, Sandra Elliott.

Head coaching record[edit]

Year Team Overall Conference Standing Bowl/playoffs
Gardner–Webb Runnin' Bulldogs (South Atlantic Conference) (1983)
1983 Gardner–Webb 5–6 4–3 T–3rd
Gardner–Webb: 5–6 4–3
The Citadel Bulldogs (Southern Conference) (2001–2003)
2001 The Citadel 3–7 2–6 7th
2002 The Citadel 3–9 1–7 9th
2003 The Citadel 6–6 4–4 T–4th
The Citadel: 12–22 7–17
Southern Miss Golden Eagles (Conference USA) (2012)
2012 Southern Miss 0–12 0–8 6th (East)
Southern Miss: 0–12 0–8
Total: 17–40


  1. ^ "Ellis Johnson named Citadel's head football coach". The Citadel. December 20, 2000. Retrieved February 12, 2015. 
  2. ^ "Work on field houses to be done by classes". Spartanburg Herald-Journal. March 10, 1976. p. C10. Retrieved December 20, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c "Johnson to resign Spartanburg post". Spartanburg Herald-Journal. January 27, 1982. p. B1. Retrieved December 20, 2011. 
  4. ^ "Johnson leaves Alabama staff for job at Clemson". The Gadsden Times. December 11, 1993. p. D3. Retrieved December 20, 2011. 
  5. ^ Hurt, Cecil (January 3, 1997). "Johnson returns to Bama". The Tuscaloosa News. p. C1. Retrieved December 20, 2011. 
  6. ^ "Johnson returns to Citadel". The Tuscaloosa News. December 22, 2000. p. C1. Retrieved December 20, 2011. 
  7. ^ "Auburn makes Ellis Johnson's hire official: "One of the top defensive minds in college football"". AL.com. December 6, 2012. Retrieved December 6, 2012. 
  8. ^ "Ellis Johnson is reportedly out as Auburn’s defensive coordinator". nbcsports.com. November 30, 2014. Retrieved December 5, 2014. 
  9. ^ "Ellis Johnson fired as D-coordinator at Auburn". foxsports.com. November 30, 2014. Retrieved December 5, 2014. 
  10. ^ Gaillard, Luther (January 7, 1983). "Johnson named Gardner–Webb coach". Spartanburg Herald-Journal. p. C1. Retrieved December 20, 2011. 
  11. ^ a b DeLassus, David. "Ellis Johnson Records by Year". College Football Data Warehouse. Retrieved December 20, 2011. 
  12. ^ "Johnson gets Appalachian post". Spartanburg Herald-Journal. January 11, 1984. p. C1. Retrieved December 20, 2011. 
  13. ^ Burger, Ken (December 22, 2000). "Johnson returns to dogs". The Post and Courier. p. C1. Retrieved December 20, 2011. 
  14. ^ Hartsell, Jeff (December 16, 2003). "Citadel's Johnson leaves for Mississippi State". The Post and Courier. p. C1. Retrieved December 20, 2011. 
  15. ^ "Southern Miss hires Ellis Johnson". ESPN.com. Associated Press. December 20, 2011. Retrieved December 20, 2011. 
  16. ^ Cleveland, Tyler (December 20, 2011). "Ellis Johnson to be next USM coach". The Clarion-Ledger. Retrieved December 20, 2011. 
  17. ^ a b Talty, John (November 17, 2012). "How far the Eagles have fallen: USM goes from 12–2 to 0–10 in one year". The Clarion-Ledger. Retrieved November 27, 2012. 
  18. ^ Doherty, Tim (October 25, 2012). "Johnson makes minimum $740K per year". Hattiesburg American. Retrieved November 27, 2012. 
  19. ^ Brandt, Dave (November 12, 2012). "Southern Miss is only FBS team without a win". Yahoo! Sports. Associated Press. Retrieved November 27, 2012. 
  20. ^ "Marshall vs Southern Miss: Postgame Notes". SouthernMiss.com. October 20, 2012. Retrieved November 27, 2012. 
  21. ^ Meyerburg, Paul (October 24, 2012). "Quarterback's mom arrested for altercation during game". USA Today (USAToday.com). Retrieved November 27, 2012. 

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