Ellis Johnson's future points to Columbia

Assistant pleased that contract extension keeps him at USC through 2013

jperson@thestate.comFebruary 12, 2010 

Ellis Johnson

C. ALUKA BERRY/CABERRY@THESTATE.COM

The contract extension Ellis Johnson received Thursday will keep him at South Carolina until he reaches retirement age.

Or not.

The 58-year-old Johnson, who has three young children, said he plans to coach for another 10 to 15 years. But he is most excited about the upcoming ones with the Gamecocks.

As expected, the executive committee of USC's board of trustees approved an extension for Johnson that added two years to his contract and doubled his compensation to $700,000 a year.

Johnson now has a four-year deal - the same as Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier - that takes him through the 2013 season.

"I'm extremely happy about it," Johnson said in a telephone interview. "But the thing I'm most happy about is the length. I really think we're close to getting some great things done and glad they gave me the chance to stay."

Athletics director Eric Hyman said USC made a counteroffer after another conference school offered Johnson its defensive coordinator post. Sources close to the USC program said new Tennessee coach Derek Dooley offered Johnson a three-year deal worth $800,000 annually.

Johnson also was mentioned as a candidate to succeed Dooley as coach at Louisiana Tech.

"There was an opportunity and possibly another opportunity. And, frankly, I didn't want to go anywhere and made that clear, and I really appreciate the way they responded," Johnson said. "Because I really think this is the place to be, and I'm just really tickled about it."

Trustees also approved a two-year deal for new offensive line coach Shawn Elliott. The former Appalachian State assistant will make $150,000 this year and $165,000 in 2011.

Former line coach Eric Wolford, who left in December to become Youngstown State's coach, had a three-year deal worth $250,000 annually with the Gamecocks.

Johnson was in the middle of an SEC arms race that has seen three schools pay their defensive coordinators at least $700,000 a year.

Hyman said rising salaries for assistants are a concern among athletics directors. But USC anted up for a coach with strong instate recruiting connections who had the Gamecocks' defense ranked in the top 15 nationally his first two years in Columbia.

"Let's face it, coach Johnson has done a terrific job here, and we really respect the job that he's done recruiting and coaching," Hyman said.

University attorney Terry Parham said ISP Sports, USC's media-rights holder, is responsible for the additional $350,000 Johnson will make in personal-services compensation.

Johnson's buyout terms also changed. In the event he is fired without cause, USC is required to offer him a position in the athletics department at the same compensation level.

If Johnson turns down the offer, USC would owe him $350,000 per year for the remainder of his contract. If Johnson leaves - unless it is for a head-coaching position - he would owe USC $700,000 per year.

Though he is nearing 60, Johnson said he is healthy and has incentive to keep coaching. "I've got the age on one side, but I've got the young children on the other side," said Johnson, a Winnsboro native whose wife is from Columbia.

"We just feel like we're close and we want to get this thing over the hump."

Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.

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