One of the longest coaching careers in Southern football history ended Monday. Or at least paused.
Ellis Johnson, who was South Carolina’s defensive coordinator from 2008 through 2011 and has coached college football for 36 years, finished a two-year stint as a defensive analyst for the Gamecocks when his contract ran out at the end of April.
“I’ve been cleaning out my desk and office for five weeks, and this isn’t the first time I’ve done it,” Johnson told The State.
Johnson was the Gamecocks defensive coordinator at the beginning of the school’s most successful run in history. His units helped South Carolina win the SEC East in 2010 and 11 games in 2011. He left USC to become the head coach at Southern Miss in 2012. He was fired after that season. He also served as head coach at The Citadel (2001-2003) and Gardner-Webb (1983).
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As an assistant, he has coordinated the defenses at Clemson, Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State as well as with the Gamecocks. For the past two years, he has served as support staff member for South Carolina coach Will Muschamp.
“I enjoyed it more the first year than the second,” Johnson said. “I really enjoyed it a lot the first year because it was new people, new scheme, and it’s fun to sit in and pick up on things. The second year was not nearly as energizing.”
In his role, Johnson scouted the Gamecocks offense and tried to pass along information to Muschamp and the offensive coaching staff about how a defensive coordinator might attack them and also prepared early scouting reports on opponents during the season. He believes it was his role looking at the USC offense that proved most valuable to Muschamp.
“I hope it was helpful,” Johnson said. “I thought it was a good idea by him to do that.”
As an analyst, Johnson was not allowed by NCAA rules to work directly with players on the practice field or game field.
“It’s very restrictive, but there’s a lot of fudging that goes on across America on it,” Johnson said. “I couldn’t do any of those things, because it would be too obvious that I had my hands in the middle of it, so I’m not sure I was as useful to Will as, possibly, a young guy who could put his hands on some more things.”
Johnson doesn’t know how Muschamp plans to fill his position, but he did say former South Carolina assistant Brad Lawing is hoping to return to coaching in some role. Lawing, who coached defensive line for the Gamecocks from 2006-2012, has worked at Florida State for the past three years but was not retained by new Seminoles coach Willie Taggart.
“I know he really did want to keep going,” Johnson said.
Johnson would like to keep going, too. He won’t move from Columbia, because of his children, but will look for coaching opportunities that allow him to stay in the city, he said. That would include working with Steve Spurrier in the new Alliance of American Football. Spurrier was named the head coach of the Orlando team for that upstart league.
“I may try to get in touch with Steve and look into that situation,” he said. “I don’t know what position it might be, but I’m very interested in it. You’re not going to have a very long season and you’re not going to be doing a lot of draft analysis and that stuff. I’m curious about it, and I’ve talked to a mutual friend and made sure he knew I was interested.”
Johnson also might assist at Ben Lippen, he said. There’s also the possibility that he will pop up on the local airwaves as a weekly co-host with Teddy Heffner and Rick Sanford on “Talking Sports” on 620-AM and 96.3 FM in Columbia.
“I’ve done that before, and it was a lot of fun once I got used to it,” Johnson said. “I found out after the first try I better do some preparation.”
Coaching somewhere is his first choice, though.
“You reach a point in your life and career and you don’t have to work, and it makes you look at it a little differently,” he said. “You realize you enjoy it a little more than you thought you did.”