HATTIESBURG, Miss. — South Carolina defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson is taking over the Southern Miss football program, and the veteran defensive coordinator has big goals for the Golden Eagles: Lead them to a BCS game.
Johnson, 59, was introduced Tuesday during a news conference on campus. He has spent the past four years at South Carolina, and has substantial ties in Mississippi, previously working as defensive coordinator at Mississippi State and Southern Miss.
The Winnsboro, S.C., native takes over a program that has had 18 consecutive winning seasons and been to 10 bowl games in a row, but has not made it to a Bowl Championship Series game like Boise State and Texas Christian University, two non-BCS conference schools that have managed to crash the elite college football club.
“As I take over this program, I’m looking for something that’s never been done before,” Johnson said. “Frankly, there’s very little left. It’s intimidating, but it’s also challenging.”
Johnson replaces Larry Fedora, who is leaving Southern Miss after four seasons to take the North Carolina job. The Golden Eagles just completed their first 10-win season since 1988 and won a Conference USA title for the first time since 2003.
Fedora will be Southern Miss’ coach against Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl on Saturday.
Johnson said he would not coach in South Carolina’s game against Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl on Jan. 2. He said he would begin work for the Golden Eagles immediately.
Johnson said he was aware that his age would raise some eyebrows, considering many new coaching hires are in their 30s or 40s. But he insisted he had plenty of energy for the job.
The hire was well-
received by former Southern Miss quarterback and NFL star Brett Favre.
“Ellis is a great coach with a winning résumé who knows Golden Eagle football and its fan base,” Favre said in a statement released by the university. “I’m confident Coach Johnson will do a great job.”
Johnson’s hiring isn’t completely surprising considering he was a candidate for the job four years ago when Fedora was hired. But his defensive-minded strengths are a 180-degree departure from Fedora, who came to Southern Miss after successful stints as the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State and Florida.