In 2011, Southern Miss won 12 games, a Conference USA championship and bowl game. That stellar résumé led head coach Larry Fedora to be gobbled up for the same position at North Carolina, replaced by Ellis Johnson.
Exactly 343 days later, and following a season in which the football team had as many losses as they did wins the previous year, the Golden Eagles will be moving on to their third coach in less than a year.
After abruptly canceling Johnson’s weekly Monday press conference, and following up on a day’s worth of rumors, Southern Miss announced they have dismissed the head coach and will commence a search for his successor immediately. Johnson was informed of the decision 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,” athletic director Jeff Hammond’s statement read. “Dr. Lucas accepted my recommendation and earlier this morning I informed Ellis Johnson that he will not return in the future as our head football coach.”
Fair or not, Johnson will be one-and-done in Hattiesburg thanks to an inexplicable first season on the job.
Following up on that 12-win 2011 season, Southern Miss went 0-12. They are the first team to go winless in a single season since both Eastern Michigan and Western Kentucky accomplished that feat in 2009. They are also believed to be the first FBS program to go from double-digit wins to winless in the span of one season.
The Golden Eagles had their streak of 18 consecutive winning seasons snapped in 2012, as was their streak of 10 straight bowl appearances.
Add it all up, and the athletic department was left with almost no choice but to can their coach.
“At Southern Miss we expect to compete hard and succeed both in the classroom and on the field,” said Hammond. “This is not the exception…This is in fact the standard, the norm, our identity and who we are.
“In this regard, we have already initiated a search for a new head coach. We will move rapidly in this effort seeking a dynamic leader with the character to lead our program back to prominence.”
Johnson was hired by Southern Miss on Dec. 20 of last year, coming to the Golden Eagles after a three-year stint as South Carolina’s defensive coordinator/assistant head coach. It was Johnson’s first head-coaching job at the FBS level.
It’s believed Johnson’s buyout will be $2.1 million, $700,000 for each of the three remaining years on his contract.