Johnson, 60, was officially named Auburn’s defensive coordinator Thursday, marking the first addition to new head coach Gus Malzahn’s coaching staff.
“Ellis is one of the top defensive minds in all of college football,” 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.”
Among Malzahn’s official moves Thursday was dismissing longtime strength and conditioning coach Kevin Yoxall and director of football relations Wayne Bolt. According a report by the Birmingham News, director of player personnel Scott Fountain will receive a promotion.
Previous staff movements included former head coach Gene Chizik’s firing Oct. 25, executive associate athletic director Tim Jackson’s reassignment within the athletic department that same day, and Chizik’s entire staff of nine assistants being officially dismissed Wednesday.
Among those assistants was defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, who remained popular with several players throughout the worst statistical defensive season in program history. Johnson’s interview and offer Wednesday – a day after Malzahn’s welcome press conference – and official acceptance Thursday, sealed the transition.
Johnson is coming off an unsuccessful one-year stop at Southern Miss, where he oversaw the nation’s only winless Division I squad. In fact, his head coaching record is 17-40, with previous stops at The Citadel and Gardner-Webb.
However, his coordinating chops are a different story. Johnson called the defensive plays and was assistant head coach at South Carolina (2008-11) working for Steve Spurrier. The Gamecocks’ defense ranked in the top 15 nationally three years under Johnson.
In all, Auburn is his seventh defensive coordinator job, including Alabama (1997-2000) and Mississippi State (2004-07) – making this his fourth stop in the SEC and third in the Western Division.
He was outside linebackers coach for the Crimson Tide during their 1992 national championship run.
“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.”
Johnson and his wife, Caroline, have two sons, Eli and Charlie, and a daughter, Sandra Elliott.
A defensive end in college, Johnson served six years in the high school ranks in his native South Carolina before embarking on what is now a 30-year college coaching career.
“This is truly a home run for me,” Johnson said. “I can’t wait to get started and I’m ready to go to work.”
Johnson is currently Malzahn’s lone subordinate. Yoxall was let go after 14 years with the Auburn football team, while Bolt latched on at the outset of the Chizik regime in 2009.
The removal of “Yox”, as he was affectionately known around the program, torqued off one graduating senior Tiger.
“Tough to see Yox go,” former tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen tweeted. “He taught me that when I think I have nothing left to give, that I had way more left in me. Not just in sport, but life”
And in addition, from Lutzenkirchen: “Yox deserves no blame. He kicked our (butts) and got us to grind. It (ticks) me off that he is even getting slack. He’s a legend”