The Jackson Clarion-Ledger is reporting that Southern Miss will hire South Carolina assistant head coach for defense Ellis Johnson as head coach, perhaps as soon as today. He missed the Gamecocks' practice yesterday to interview for the job, which is open thanks to previous coach Larry Fedora taking over at North Carolina.
Johnson has spent most of his coaching career in the Carolinas, though he has also coached at Southern Miss (1988-89), Alabama (1990-93, 1997-2000), and Mississippi State (2004-07). He previously was head coach at Gardner-Webb for one season in 1983 and at The Citadel from 2001-03.
He's an interesting hire in this day and age, getting his first I-A head coaching job at age 59. Most schools these days prefer to hire young coaches, and it's almost unheard of for a coach to get his first big time job past age 50. That Johnson is getting his the same week he turns 60 (December 23, thanks for asking) is probably unparalleled. He's not going to be there for 20 years, but who actually stays that long at one school anymore?
Of course, Johnson's performance at South Carolina of late has certainly earned him the chance. In particular, this season was his finest yet in Columbia. Without counting I-AA games, the Gamecocks are 11th nationally in scoring defense and third in total defense. Only Alabama and LSU allowed fewer yards per play, and South Carolina was just 0.04 yards per play behind the Tigers. The Gamecocks are second nationally in yards per pass allowed, behind only Bama.
Johnson leaves large shoes to fill back in Columbia. Steve Spurrier will have a tall task replacing him, and it's a critical hire for the program to remain in annual contention for the SEC East crown.