Defensive coordinator merry-go-round leaves Arkansas needing one

Updated: January 24, 2008, 7:29 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

In what could only be described a convoluted set of events, two college football teams either lost or introduced a defensive coordinator, and an NFL team welcomed one back.

On Thursday, Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino announced Ellis Johnson would be leaving the Razorbacks to take the defensive coordinator's opening at South Carolina. Johnson had been at Arkansas less than a month.

In South Carolina, coach Steve Spurrier announced his defensive coordinator, Brian VanGorder, would be returning to the Atlanta Falcons, where he had served as the linebackers coach. VanGorder, who will be the new defensive coordinator for the Falcons under Mike Smith, had been with the Gamecocks just more than a month.

Hours later, Spurrier announced Johnson would be joining his staff, replacing VanGorder.

Petrino is left searching for a new defensive coordinator, but it could be argued he started this whole carousel in the first place. Petrino is the former Falcons coach, who left the NFL team in mid-December.

Johnson, who will receive a three-year contract with the Gamecocks, spent four seasons as the defensive coordinator at Mississippi State. Before that, he had been the head coach at The Citadel, where he also played football.

"Ellis Johnson has resigned as defensive coordinator," Petrino said Thursday. "I spoke with Coach Johnson this morning and he felt like this is the best decision for his family. I certainly understand that. He and his wife are both from South Carolina and many of their relatives still reside in the state."

VanGorder, a former University of Georgia defensive coordinator, left the Falcons for South Carolina when Petrino departed with three games remaining in the NFL season to take the top job at Arkansas. But when Smith was hired by the Falcons, it opened the door for VanGorder to return -- the two are good friends who were assistant coaches together with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Spurrier had interviewed Johnson for the Gamecocks' opening before settling on VanGorder.

"You might ask, 'Why didn't you hire him the first time?'" Spurrier said. "I should have. I really should have."

Johnson said after 32 years in coaching, little surprises him. He is thrilled to be returning to his native South Carolina.

"It was probably the last thing on my mind when I got up, but I was really happy when he called," Johnson said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.