(Editorial Note: I'm traveling for the holidays, so expect posting to be somewhat sporadic for the next two weeks.)
In a move that surprised me quite a bit (I was expecting them to hire former OC Blake Anderson, who was reportedly the popular choice with fans and boosters), Southern Miss. has chosen to hire Gamecocks DC Ellis Johnson to replace outgoing HC Larry Fedora.
I have a few things to say about this move. First of all, Johnson should be congratulated. He has had a very good run as the Gamecocks DC, and if he wants to be a HC, then he deserves it. He's accomplished more or less all that you can as a DC, short of winning an SEC Title. In Columbia alone, he's coached multiple highly ranked defenses, multiple All-Americans. He's widely reputed to be among the best in the business, and we were lucky he contributed his talents to our cause.
Second of all, Gamecocks fans need to keep some perspective about this. There are inevitably going to be those who will take this as a slap in the face or will think it was a poor career move for Johnson. It's neither, at least not if Johnson wants to try his hand at being an HC, which most coaches with the talent to imagine the possibility do. Southern Miss. is an excellent mid-major program that has a history of winning. The cupboard is full there and it's situated in a place where it can get talented players, as it picks up lots of good players who can't play at LSU, Auburn, and Alabama, and it's better than Ole Miss and Miss. St. and can compete with them for good Mississippi recruits. It would have been better, of course, to take a job at a BCS program, but in recent years, such programs haven't hired coordinators, for whatever reasons, so that might not be an option. USM is about as good as it gets for a guy like Johnson.
Some Gamecocks fans are going to say Johnson was positioned to take over at USC in a few years. Maybe he was. However, first of all, the guy isn't getting any younger. He's 59, and if he wants to do this while he has a chance, he needs to do so now. Second of all, my impression is that Spurrier may be here longer than anticipated. In addition to being something Carolina fans should be happy about, that means that Johnson's day at USC may not have been forthcoming.
Lastly, while it's hard to imagine us doing much better than we did with EJ, we should trust Spurrier to hire a good replacement. This is an attractive position that has served as a career stepping-stone to multiple DCs in recent years. There's lots of talent on campus right now, and there's abundant proof that you can recruit top-notch defenders to USC. A DC knows he'll receive autonomy here, as Spurrier is fairly hands-off with the defense. There are also some attractive names on the board right now, some with Spurrier connections like Mike Stoops and Ron Zook. Spurrier knows how important this hire is to his goals, and he'll make it happen.