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Gus Is Moving Quickly.

By on December 6th, 2012 in Football 81 Comments »

Can Ellis Johnson rebuild the Auburn defense?

     War Eagle, everybody! It’s whirlwind time on the Plains, as fast-breaking news continues to flow from Auburn. We’ve learned this morning that it has taken new head coach Gus Malzhan all of one day on the job to find a new defensive coordinator, and that man is veteran coordinator Ellis Johnson. In addition, it’s been made clear that Malzhan is retaining none of Gene Chizik’s staff of on the field coaches. The fate of strength coach Kevin Yoxall and the support staff has not yet been announced.

     Ellis Johnson’s is well regarded as a defensive coordinator, but his record is uhmm… interesting. He’s been coaching for over thirty years, with a fairly disastrous 17-40 record as a head coach. He’s fresh off being fired from Southern Mississippi, producing the worst season in Golden Eagle history at 0-12. In Johnson’s ill fated year, his team gave up 30 or more points 9 times.

     In the past 20 years, Johnson has had marginal success as a defensive coordinator at Clemson, Alabama, Mississippi State and South Carolina. Johnson’s 1995-1996 defense at Clemson gave up 19.2 points per game. At Alabama from 1997-2000, Johnson defenses gave up 22.3 points per game during the Mike Dubose era. Under Sylvester Croom at Mississippi State from 2004-2007, Johnson’s units averaged giving up 24.4 points per game. At South Carolina from 2008-2011, Johnson’s units gave up 20.8 points per game. Johnson’s USM squad gave up 37.8 points per game this past season, nearly ten more points per game than Auburn gave up!

     I suspect opposite a high speed offense like Malzhan will run, Johnson’s unlikely to return Auburn to the days when opponents could not get out of the teens. This hire is interesting, as Johnson has gone on record in the past stating that he does not like hurry-up offenses, and that such strategy “deteriorates college football.” At Alabama, we saw Johnson’s defense get shredded by Central Florida for 42 points. In Starkville, we saw Auburn hang 43, 28 and 34 points on Johnson’s squad. LSU punished the Bullies for 51, 37, 48 and 45. Johnson’s South Carolina stint resulted in teams that gave up 56 points in a game to Florida, 41 and 42 to Georgia, 41 and 44 to Arkansas, and 56 to Auburn. In short, expect Auburn opponents to be on the scoreboard some.

     On the positive side, Johnson’s results have come on a lot of teams that had tough situations on defense when he came in. At Alabama, he suffered under an inconsistent Dubose program. Mississippi State was seriously depleted when Johnson joined Croom in Starkville. Defense has been an afterthought throughout much of Steve Spurrier’s career also. Johnson will once again have his hands full rebuilding an Auburn defense that was, quite frankly, soft down the stretch this past season. The good news is that Malzhan is apparently going to allow Johnson to bring in whomever he wants on the defensive side of the ball.

     It will be interesting to see who Malzhan taps as an offensive coordinator. In all likelihood, Rhett Lashlee will join Malzhan in Auburn, as he was a grad assistant during Malzhan’s previous Auburn stint, and was the offensive coordinator at Arkansas State last season. Chad Morris at Clemson may also get a call.

     The offensive side of Auburn’s football team will be a rebuilding project also. It’s been the better part of a decade since Auburn went into the offseason with a settled situation at quarterback, and this year is no exception. Malzhan has already announced that the position will once again be an open competition. In my opinion, Jonathan Wallace is the likely winner, but I figure the other two guys will have something to say about that. Whomever wins out will have to be far more accurate than they showed on the field in 2011.

     Malzhan will have the advantage of a veteran offensive line that was one of the few units that didn’t collapse during the past season. Tre Mason is a serious threat at running back who was criminally under-used, and I can’t wait to see Jay Prosch line up at H-back and demolish more defenders! With Sammie Coates and C. J. Uzomah coming back, Auburn should have some game breaking receivers, if we can get the ball to them.

     It’s once again fun to be an Auburn Tiger, as we watch the new era take shape. We’ll jettison the baggage from last season’s horror show, and watch things develop. I’m figuring Malzhan will have a whole staff in place before Christmas, and they’ll hit the recruiting trail hard. Despite being home this season for the holidays, it’s great to see optimism in Auburn again. War Eagle!


  1. HTFUWDE says:

    I think its a good hire. Now who’s gonna be the oc chad morris would be a good one think he might go after tony Franklin

    • Third Generation Tiger Third Generation Tiger says:

      I want Chad Morris or Rhett Lashlee. I’m still not sold on Franklin, however he was by all accounts treated poorly while he was at AU so we never really got to see what he could do.

    • wilderr wilderr says:

      Some players that Arkansas State and Southern Miss where after together may be consider Auburn recruits now. Two safeties : Chequan Burkett of Jeff Davis, Montgomery and Evan Osbourne (a Southern Miss committ) 6’4″ 205 .lbs. Then, DT Rod Crayton, Southern Miss Prospect and a good one, maybe on Auburn’s board now. I still think that the DT from Harris County, GA is better than Montravius Adams.

      • wilderr wilderr says:

        DT from Harris County, GA is James Ellison. Better vision and quickness. He is another Tracey Rocker.

        • wilderr wilderr says:

          How does 47 solo tackles as a high school sophomore sound when your junior teammate is Javaris Jenkins.

  2. sullivan013 sullivan013 says:

    Any legs to the rumor that Tracy Rocker might return? That would be a welcome boost to the defense line. While I appreciate Mike Pelton’s efforts there was a dramatic drop off in the D-line play when the Rock left.

    Ellis is also known as a great recruiter, especially in a ‘rebuilding’ situation.

  3. KevinATL KevinATL says:

    If you guys have read any of my postings, I have been very left feeling very negative about this whole situation. I will, SHOCKER, be a little more positive today. Perhaps it is just letting the season/firing/hiring sink in a little, or the fact we do not have to watch Bama win again ( until Jan.) every weekend.
    I will say, that the positive of the HC hire is that the players we have are set up for Gus Malzhan’s offensive scheme. That means wins sooner than later. If we brought in Smart, or any other pro style coach we would be in for another painfully long season. I DO think we will eventually have to switch away from the spread, but we will see. I think Jacobs and co. thought it was important we get out of the cellar as soon as possible, and Gus was the one who could do this with what we have.
    As for the Ellis hire, you could argue either way, good or bad. He has a mixed result record. I would initially be disappointed with his record, but look at Roof. He was not cutting the mustard at Auburn, then he heads to a depleted Penn State and fields a great defense.

  4. almightytmc1 says:

    Gus is throwing all of the field coaches under the bus…. WAY TO GO COACH!!!! Its about time somebody did the right thing!!!!!
    I think I like this guy.

  5. tigrrr tigrrr says:

    Is Ellis Johnson a has been or is he still a good coordinator?

    • KoolBell KoolBell says:

      Phillip Marshall says that Gus “could not have done any better”, “Johnson is the most highly regarded DC in the business”

      • KoolBell KoolBell says:

        Also, Johnson runs a multiple look from a base 4-2-5 defense. Less emphasis on “need” for high quality linebackers, and more on faster, bigger, better tackling defensive backs. I am sure Acid could do an in depth look at who all Johnson has put in the league, and do a much better explanation of his style of defense.

  6. uglyjoe says:

    I think its telling that he dismissed everyone. Maybe some insight into what the attitude was in the program end of last year. Would seem a little strange to me if you didnt see a little holdover or at least some coaches from A state move over?.

  7. autgr4life says:

    I think the title of the post is fitting – “Gus is Moving Quickly”!!

    He said that everything we will do will be aggressive so this is just more proof he is moving aggressively. The staff hiring is moving at about the same pace as his offense, if he can provide the same results in the building of a staff as he can in the running of an offense at this pace we should have one of the better crews in the SEC by the end of the week.

    I really like the hire of Ellis Johnson he was the DC at SCAR when they brought Clowney in and he has turned out to be one of the best defensive players in the conference. Now I will grant you that this year we cannot attribute to Johnson but it was him and his staff that brought in Clowney and gave him his first two years of development. If we can get our guys to produce to half the level that Clowney does we should see a significant improvement next year on defense.

    • Col.Angus Col.Angus says:

      Remember Clowney was the arguably the top recruit in the nation. I’m not so sure he wouldn’t be blowing up backfields whereever he played or for whom.

      • rn4au rn4au says:

        True, but if Johnson was the lead recruiter that got Clowney to SC then he deserves the credit for that. I agree Clowney would have been outstanding no matter who coached him.

  8. Pine Mt Tiger Pine Mt Tiger says:

    I like it that Gus is “moving fast” and cleaning house. Shows he is means business about getting things turned around. But there are a couple of coaches – like Boulware – that I hope he will hire back. Good up Acid.

  9. TigerintheHass TigerintheHass says:

    You guys are kidding about Tony Franklin, right??? RIGHT? Too many TERRIBLE memories associated with that guy.

    I hope it’s Chad Morris – throw some $$$ at him – he can’t win a NC at Clemson since the ACC is so terrible.

  10. MyAuburn myauburn says:

    Everyone knows how many top notch players we have on the roster at AU. I can’t wait till A-Day to see if development has progressed instead of being stagnant or even regressing.
    Personally, I believe we will see a fast paced game on both sides of the ball. We might get burned a few times on D but hey, no problem, we will just score again.

    There is a story about Spurrier when he was first hired. He was meeting with the coaches and drawing out pass plays on the board without putting any defensive O’s on the diagram. When one of the D coaches mentioned that Spurrier dismissed him saying that they weren’t needed. The coach was pi***d and proceeded to draw up a defensive stunt that could not possibly be stopped with 4 wideouts. “Now what do you do” the D coach asked. Spurrier looked at him and said, “Well I guess they won that one” and kept on drawing up pass plays.

    I kinda see that happening at AU in the coming seasons.

  11. cmatt90 says:

    Hmmmm…don’t know much about this guy, but definitely not wowed by what I’ve read. I’m not sure why we gave Van Gorder the boot after one season. If we’re giving Malzahn a pass for 2011 because he was supposedly tainted by Chizik, why not BVG? You never know, Johnson could suddenly pull a good defensive year out of his you know what, but he’s been coaching 30 years and doesn’t seem like he’s had a good year yet. Other than this year, BVG has a proven record as a defensive winner.

    Also worried about dropping Trooper, who was the guy that really pulled in our top recruits over the past few years. I would have kept him in his position and let another coach be the de facto x’s and o’s coach of the receivers.

    • MyAuburn myauburn says:

      Good point on Trooper. Do we have a recruiting coordinator position?

    • Col.Angus Col.Angus says:

      Trooper may not get the axe. They are letting all the on field coaches go…..Trooper never showed any signs of being an on field coach….or coach of any kind that I can see.

      What is clear is that NCAA would love to get them some Trooper. Whether he is clean or not I don’t know but he sure does seem to generate a lot of red flags for folks to investigate.

    • Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

      ……If we hired Malzhan, then insisted that Van Gorder be retained, that would be exactly the sort of “meddling” folks have complained long and loud about on various Auburn boards. We hired him, and we have to let him hire who he wants. Van Gorder will likely land on his feet. I wouldn’t shed too many tears for him.

  12. Col.Angus Col.Angus says:

    Not sure what to think of the Johnson hire. He is the antithesis of what Gus is. It looks like Gus was trying to hire a name with a lot of connections. One thing I will say, in the dysfunctional environment we are trying to get away from, its curious to hire a guy who doesn’t support the offensive system. I guess Ellis said he would keep his mouth shut and do what hes told if the money was right.

    One thing we don’t need is another bend-but-don’t-break defensive mind. With the HUNH being employed we need to get the D on and off the field as quick as possible. Its going to need to be ATTACK the Run and Blitz the QB….all day. We will give up a lot of big plays but hopefully generate some turnovers as well. If we allow a ball control offense to keep them on the field for 40minutes a game, we won’t win many games.

    So….I guess we will have to wait and see how this turns out. If I were Gus, I would buy Ellis a copy of “How to Stop a Spread Attack for Dummies” just to be sure we don’t get blown out by Ole Miss again.

    • War_Eagle_2010 War_Eagle_2010 says:

      I agree on the style of play Johnson should use. I would rather Auburn try to get sacks and turnovers while giving up potential big plays, then do what we’ve done for four year which is death by a thousand paper cuts.

  13. mikeautiger says:

    Living over here in SC I have gotten calls all morning from my Carolina friends saying this is a great guy, one of the best in the country. They loved him. The last to years he was there they had a good defense, recruited well, the defense really carried them the last 4 years, and he recruited Clowney and beat us out for his services, along with several other good players. They play very physical.

    This shapes up well. Go Gus!

    War Eagle!

  14. Tiger on the mountain Tiger on the mountain says:

    I think it would be hard to justify keeping Chizik’s staff….no matter how talented at recruiting they are.

    We need a staff full of tough disciplinarians. It could be a recurring theme in the hiring…..I would have LOVED Tracey Rocker as DC, but who knows if he was ready for that move. Johnson fielded some good defenses at USCe. He’s got the talent on this team-he just needs to get control back and remind the players whose really in charge.

    I trust the Mad Scientist, but the name ‘Tony Franklin’ makes me want to crawl back in the fetal position for a while……Please don’t do it, Gus!

  15. AubTigerman AubTigerman says:

    There is Definitely a New Sheriff in Town!

    As much as I like some of the assistants, it’s necessary for Gus to leave no doubt that his hire is the start of “A New Day” on The Plains. Bringing in his own assistants is a necessary move.

    Also as regards the “Moving Fast” title of this article … Coach Malzahn does everything like he does his offense: Hard work that is well planed, meticulous, detailed, and fast.

  16. mikeautiger says:

    Just another note, Johnson held last years Clemson team to 13 points, before he left SC. They won 43- 13, so I like the sound of someone who has experience stopping the spread.

  17. War_Eagle_2010 War_Eagle_2010 says:

    I think it will also help AU by the fact that Johnson is an older guy, we’ve had four years of coaches trying to be players friends, Johnson strikes me as the kind of guy who doesn’t take crap from kids. Should be great jolt for a defense that completely gave up the last four games of the season.

  18. Tigerstripe Tigerstripe says:

    Ahhh, we can finally unwrap the gauze from our recent makeover procedure and settle into our new identity. Kind of like trying on a tailored suit (not that I know, unless S&K are considered tailored). I like it. Kind of slimming and sophisticated but yet it still says, “I know how to party!”

    Obviously Coach Malzhan (can I call you ‘Gus’?) is not going to take responsibility of the program without demanding the authority that should go with it. He may however just need some time to formally interview any existing staff members, so maybe he keeps some. I will have to say, it’s gonna be tough seeing that hat on backwards and that towel waving and those jumping butt bump thingys on another side line… “DAMN YOU, Trooper! I promised myself I wouldn’t get so close!!!” (sniff, honk)… Ok, I’m over that now.

    The HUNH is here to stay because it’s effective. I’m guessing it will force defenses to be less specialized and more athletic and in shape. So be it. If the HUNH is the death of football, then we just hired Darth Vader as the HC and then he turned around and hired Ben Kenobi to protect the Death Star… Sweet! I think this makes Jay, Princess Leia, not sure.

  19. TigerintheHass TigerintheHass says:

    I am just hoping Gus brings in an OC that will run the Malzah-fense we know and love. So maybe Chad Morris wouldn’t be the right choice, although I would love to see his playbook and Gus’s join forces…. Fun times ahead, friends!

    • cmatt90 says:

      Whoever he gets as OC will run Gus’ offense. This will be like Steve Spurrier teams. Sure, there’s a separate OC, but we all know Spurrier is driving the offense. Same with Malzahn.

    • Tigerstripe Tigerstripe says:

      I just hope he keeps a strong hand in the offense. I wouldn’t mind if he did all of the play calling.

      This offense will move the chains and with our punters, we should always have favorable field position. If our defense can show success in the first half while they are fresh we should see a lot of 28-10 halftime scores. Maybe we can create two defensive teams and rotate each qtr to keep them fresh but lesson 1 – open field tackling. Lesson 2 – secondary coverage. Lesson 3 – open field tackling

      • rn4au rn4au says:

        I have thought about that myself. Have two separate defenses that stayed fresh… I guess the problem would be if you played quarters the players would get cold and if you switched out lines, would you have enough good players on the team for two totally separate groups? Has anyone approached it that way? I dont think I have seen it so there has to be some reason.

        Agree with your lesson plan above… only add Lesson 4 Shut the Crap up and Tackle and Lesson 5 Get your head outa your backside and tackle and Lesson 6 Don’t mouth off till you can actually tackle.

        • Tigerstripe Tigerstripe says:

          MAYBE…rotate 60% of your defense on each possession. Keep the 40% that you can’t live without on the field until they pass out… Something like this would be a great recruiting tool. “Son, because of the complexity of our offense, you (insert 18 year old defenesive stud name hear – in my head his name is ‘Sue’) will get to play at least half of every game your freshman year.”

          I like your lesson plan better. “Gentlemen, open your Sun Tzu’s ‘Art of War’ textbook to the chapter titled ‘SEC Tackling – Snot Bubbles’ and start reading in preparation for your field testing in April”

          • rn4au rn4au says:

            ” Oh Yes! and do not forget the chapter summary as major points will be covered in said field testing..
            1. New Sheriff in Town so Quitcha Bitchn
            2. I dont give a crap, it’s gonna hurt…deal with it.
            3. You actually have to put your arms around the guy.. yea that’s right..around him not shake hands with him..
            4. Drive your feet means push that Big Ugly till his ass meets the grass.
            5. Not a word till you can do above, not complain, and ask me for more cuz it wasnt enough for u!

          • War_Eagle_2010 War_Eagle_2010 says:

            Really all that needs to be effectively rotated is D-Line. It all comes down to having enough bodies up front, hopefully Gus can hang on to our line recruits and grab a few more.

  20. War_Eagle_2010 War_Eagle_2010 says:

    Don’t know if this is new news or not but the Arkansas St AD has decided to use an interim coach for their bowl game. This will allow Gus to focus on putting together a staff at Auburn and recruiting.

  21. War_Eagle_2010 War_Eagle_2010 says:

    Also in the news Charlie Strong is staying at Louisville.

  22. KoolBell KoolBell says:

    Also, Bobby P is applying for the Arkansas State coaching position. It is the fastest way to SEC coaching jobs in the country!

  23. rn4au rn4au says:

    I have a question for those more familiar with defensive practicing than I… wouldnt Johnson HAVE to get better at defending the spread if he was practicing against it all the time? Or does it work that way?? Honestly, if I was a D coach I would hate it too. Much easier to make the right decision when you have time to think about what your doing… not so much when someone is calling RUN IT RUN IT RUN IT RUN (gum smack smack smack) RUN IT RUN IT RUN IT from the other side of the field.

    • ATL_AU_FAN ATL_AU_FAN says:

      It actually should, and probablt will, have a benefit, yes —

    • tigertracker says:

      Limited opinion here, but my football experience is that during a season both the defense and offense practice alot against the scout team which is made up I assume of red shirts, walk ons, and players deep on the depth chart. The scout team usually runs the plays that your upcoming opponent runs so that you actually practice against what you will see on saturday rather than against what your own team does. That said I’m sure there are times when the #1 D takes on the #1 O like A-day and various other times. Fall “camp” in August is when the “best on best” play to determine the depth chart and get experience against stiffer competition. This is where coaches struggle because you really want them knocking heads out there and getting used to tackling etc, but you don’t want to get your guys hurt in preseason so it’s a fine line to walk. Personally I’d err on the side of losing one guy to make sure all the others are prepared. Also why it is good to open season with a cupcake to work out the kinks, but you lose national exposure in doing so (double edged sword).

      • ATL_AU_FAN ATL_AU_FAN says:

        Definitely accurate during the season and prior to each game but my spring and fall practices while “learning” were against each other; very similar to the A-Day game, for example. We would always practice within our own groups but would, each week, have scrimmages first team vs. first team. Does AU do this? I honestly cannot say.

  24. sparkey sparkey says:

    I was really excited about Ellis Johnson until I read this. Damn, it’s not a big time hire at all. Thanks for ruining my day Acid.

    • Third Generation Tiger Third Generation Tiger says:

      Johnson is considered one of the top three defensive minds in college football. He turned down an interview with FSU. I think it’s a good hire.

    • Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

      ……We could have hired Bill Bellicheck, and it won’t matter if we don’t develop some linebackers, and toughen up the D-line. I think Johnson’s OK, but has never seemed consistently great, to me. Again, he’s not usually been in an ideal situation.

  25. TigerintheHass TigerintheHass says:

    DCs are a crap shoot, man. BVG was supposed to be a slam dunk hire, and well, we all saw the results there. Although I did enjoy seeing him on the sidelines and I admire his ‘stache.

  26. War_Eagle_2010 War_Eagle_2010 says:

    More news: Strength and conditioning coach Yoxal let go today.

    • Tiger on the mountain Tiger on the mountain says:

      Sparkey will be happy…..

      • sparkey sparkey says:

        Yep. I was thrilled when I heard this. I hate that somebody has to lose their job I don’t wish that on anybody let me make that clear. I’m just glad he is not at Auburn anymore. I didn’t think our guys were trained well enough by him. I’m glad he is gone.

  27. auburnelvis says:

    Does Johnson grow a mean porn stash? That’s the only thing we had going for us this season!

  28. Malakai Malakai says:

    So Rhett Lashlee Auburn’s new OC. A good hire?