Southern Miss fires Johnson as head coach
Search for new coach to begin immediately
Published: Thursday, November 29, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 29, 2012 00:11
Following the worst Southern Miss football season since 1925, Athletic Director Jeff Hammond and Interim University President Aubrey Lucas have decided to part ways with the head football coach, and Ellis Johnson was fired Tuesday morning.
“Following a thorough assessment of our football program, I made the recommendation to our University President that we not retain Ellis Johnson as our head football coach,” Hammond said in a press release. “At Southern Miss, we expect to compete hard and succeed both in the classroom and on the field. This is not the exception…This is in fact the standard, the norm, our identity and who we are.”
Lucas said the serious discussions about firing Johnson did not begin until the season officially ended Saturday.
“As long as a team is in seasonal play, as a president I will stand by those coaches and that team,” Lucas said. “It seems to me that it’s just terrible for a president to not support the university’s team, and if I had been talking about getting rid of the coach, that would have been nonsupport.”
However, Lucas said he was concerned during the season.
“I said publicly that we were disappointed, but after Saturday is when we started evaluating the program from the standpoint of coaching and whether or not we needed to make a change.”
Southern Miss completed a winless season that ended with the Memphis Tigers snapping a three-game losing streak to the Eagles before leaving Conference USA for the Big East. This season, the Eagles’ losses included four to teams that did not qualify for a bowl game by a combined score of 162-100.
Hammond was not available for comment Wednesday, and a person answering phones in the office said he was in meetings making plans to begin the search for a new head coach.
Lucas said the focus has now shifted to finding the right person to take over the program.
“We want someone who really knows the game; we want to find someone who has demonstrated that he knows about football and how to coach,” Lucas said. “Another element to success in coaching is motivating players to want to execute in such a way that you win.”
Lucas added that one characteristic he hopes to find in the new coach is enthusiasm.
“Look at our basketball program,” Lucas said. “There’s nothing like the crowds we’ve had this season, and it has to do with the coach’s ability to build support. We have energy in that program, and that’s what we’ll have in our football program.”
Though no specific timeline has been set to make the hire, Lucas said for recruiting purposes, they hope to have a coach as soon as possible. A search committee is in the process of being formed, and the university will hire a consultant to help find and evaluate candidates.
“We don’t have a deadline, we just need to do it immediately,” Lucas said. “We’ve got to do some recruiting; we’ve got to have coaches here to do that recruiting.”
Southern Miss will have to pay Johnson a $2.1 million buyout over the next three years. That cost will go down, should Johnson receive another job.
It will be the second time in as many years that the Golden Eagles will start searching for a completely new coaching staff. Some names to keep in mind are North Carolina Offensive Coordinator Blake Anderson and Tennessee-Martin Head Coach Jason Simpson. Anderson was on Larry Fedora’s staff at Southern Miss and was thought to be in the running last year for the head job. Simpson is a Southern Miss graduate who has posted a .544 overall winning percentage and a .617 conference winning percentage in his six years at UT-Martin.
This is the second time Johnson’s tenure as a head coach lasted only a season. Johnson left Gardner-Webb after a 5-6 season in 1983. His only other head coaching position was a three-year stint at the Citadel, where he posted a 12-22 record from 2001-2003.
Johnson came to the Southern Miss after a four-year stint as defensive coordinator at the University of South Carolina. It was not Johnson’s first time in Hattiesburg, however. He was defensive coordinator for the Eagles for the 1988 and 1989 seasons.