Southern Miss signed Ellis Johnson to a year contract to be its new head football coach Tuesday, pending approval by the Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning.

Johnson has served as the defensive coordinator and assistant head coach under Steve Spurrier at South Carolina for the past four years, and would replace the outgoing Larry Fedora, who will leave the program for the top job at North Carolina after guiding the Golden Eagles to the Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve.

"Ellis Johnson emerged as the absolute best candidate to lead Southern Miss football at this time - primarily because of his significant experience," Southern Miss president Martha Saunders said.

Johnson came to South Carolina after serving four seasons as defensive coordinator at Mississippi State. He has head coaching experience with three seasons at the Citadel from 2001-03 and one year at Gardner-Webb (1983).

The Citadel went 12-22 under Johnson, but its 6-6 campaign in his final season of 2003 marked the best record for the military institution in six years.

Johnson has familiarity with Southern Miss, having served as defensive coordinator from 1988-89. He has also been an assistant on the collegiate level at Appalachian State, East Carolina, Alabama and Clemson.

"Southern Miss is special," said Johnson. "From the time I worked here it has held a special place in my heart. It's a place where I am convinced you can always be successful."