Auburn football: Ellis Johnson enjoys 'always trying to change' after 39 years in coaching business

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comJanuary 3, 2014 

On Thursday, Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson discussed the spate of injuries his unit is dealing with since spring practice began last week.

TODD VAN EMST — Auburn University

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — Spending 39 years in the coaching business is no easy task.

How does one survive that long?

It's simple, according to Ellis Johnson. Auburn's defensive coordinator said he has been able to stick around nearly four decades because he's never satisfied. There are always new schemes he can devise and concepts he can pick up from coaching colleagues.

Whenever he needs a reminder, he thinks back to his favorite comical saying.

"I try to keep my mouth shut and my eyes and ears open," he said. "... I've learned a lot of football, and I remember an old saying: 'When you stop learning, when you think you know everything is when you're done."

Due to the proliferation of spread offenses in college football, Johnson has adapted much of his core philosophies over the past few years.

One belief remains, though.

"I'm not into systems and playbooks," he said. "I'm into players."

If a coach forces players to fit into a system — instead of the other way around — Johnson said half the battle is already lost.

"You need to get a system that will fit your players," he said. "So that's what we've tried to do is remain flexible over the years. I've been working with two guys in Melvin Smith and Charlie Harbison ... and they bring up things we did back then that they liked, and we've kind of moved on. Not that they were bad ideas, but they are things that every year you change a little bit."

Johnson relishes being in a constant state of flux.

If he didn't feel that way, Johnson knows he probably would have left coaching behind long ago.

"I think that kind of keeps my interest kind of piqued — always trying to change," he said, "and to keep up with the offenses and different things that are going on today, you almost have to."

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