With the hiring of Gus Malzahn Tuesday, it's time for Auburn's new head coach to build a staff. Auburn Undercover reported Tuesday night that Ellis Johnson is a top target for the defensive coordinator position.
Johnson is coming off a disastrous one-year campaign as head coach at Southern Miss, where the Eagles went 0-12 this season. But before taking over in Hattiesburg, Johnson was a successful defensive coordinator for many years in the SEC. He was at Alabama from 1997 to 2000, Mississippi State from 2004 to '07 and South Carolina from 2008 to '11. In three of his four years with the Gamecocks, his defenses allowed 300 yards or fewer per game.
While falling flat as a head coach, Johnson is still widely respected as a defensive coordinator, and he could be off the market quickly. With Tennessee, Arkansas and Florida State, looking to fill vacancies, the Tigers will have competition if they want Johnson's services.
Malzahn said at his introductory press conference Tuesday that his Auburn teams will play "attacking, multiple" defense. Like many defensive coaches in today's spread-offense world, Johnson likes to run a 4-2-5, with one of the 5 shifting from safety to linebacker depending on the situation. He is versatile, a quality that appears to be necessary for what Malzahn wants to do. As an added bonus, Auburn currently has the proper personnel on its roster to run Johnson's defense.
Johnson is an excellent defensive coach, and his philosophy lines up with that of Auburn's new coach. He would be a solid addition to Malzahn's staff.