Ellis Johnson, one of the best respected defensive minds in college football, has been named Auburn's defensive coordinator, head coach Gus Malzahn announced Thursday. Johnson is a 30-plus year coaching veteran who has 16 years of experience coaching in the Southeastern Conference.
"Ellis is one of the top defensive minds in all of college football. He is very experienced and has tremendous success coaching in the Southeastern Conference," Malzahn said. "He is a man of integrity who will be a great ambassador for Auburn. We're very pleased to have him join our staff and bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to our program."
Johnson's coaching career has included head coaching stops at Southern Miss (2012), The Citadel (2001-03) and Gardner Webb (1983). Prior to his stop at Southern Miss, Johnson was at South Carolina for four years (2008-11), where he served as the Gamecocks' defensive coordinator, while also holding the title of assistant head coach.
"I'm very fortunate for the opportunity to coach at Auburn and return to the Southeastern Conference, where there is so much tradition and history," Johnson said. "I have a tremendous amount of respect for Gus Malzahn, both as a man and a coach, and I really look forward to working for him. Auburn has a wonderful family environment and is a great community, which is a blessing for me and my family. This is truly a home run for me. I can't wait to get started and I'm ready to go to work."
Along with his four years at South Carolina, Johnson has logged stints as the defensive coordinator at Appalachian State (1984), Southern Miss (1988-89), Clemson (1995-96), Alabama (1997-2000) and Mississippi State (2004-07). He has coached in four SEC Championship games, has been part of one national title and has placed numerous players on NFL rosters.
While defensive coordinator at South Carolina, Johnson also served as linebackers coach. In his final season with the Gamecocks, his defense ranked third nationally, allowing just 268 yards per game. Under Johnson, South Carolina finished in the Top 15 nationally in total defense three times. In addition to the 2011 mark of No. 4 overall, the USC defense ranked No. 13 in scoring defense (18.8 points per game) and second in pass defense (133 yards per game).
A native of Winnsboro, S.C., Johnson logged two stints at Alabama. He was the defensive coordinator and outside linebackers coach from 1997-2000, helping the Crimson Tide go 10-3 in 1999 with an SEC title and a spot in the Orange Bowl. His 1999 defense was No. 2 in the nation against the rush and No. 9 in total defense.
He served as the outside linebackers coach from 1990-93, helping Gene Stallings' teams go a combined 41-9, including an undefeated national championship year in 1992. Alabama's defense ranked No. 1 that season against the run and in total defense.
The Tide ran off a 31-game winning streak and a 34-game unbeaten streak from 1991-93. The 1991 squad went 11-1. All four of those teams played in bowl games.
A 1975 graduate of The Citadel, Johnson played defensive end for the Bulldogs. He began his career as the defensive ends coach at his alma mater under Bobby Ross in 1975 before working as an assistant coach at Gaffney (S.C.) High School from 1976-78 and as both an assistant and head coach at Spartanburg (S.C.) High School from 1979-81.
He is married to the former Caroline Courie, a Columbia, S.C., native. They have two sons, Eli and Charlie, and a daughter, Sandra Elliott.