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Penn State Football: Johnson Named Assistant Head Coach At Ohio State, Franklin Looks West

by on January 16, 2014 1:00 PM

Losing an 18-year assistant coach in Larry Johnson Sr was hard enough for Penn State fans. Losing him to Ohio State? That's a move that the Nittany Lion faithful won't soon forget.

"I am very pleased that Larry Johnson is an Ohio State Buckeye," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. "I have great respect for him as a family man, as a coach and mentor of young men, and as a recruiter. He is an outstanding addition to our coaching staff."

Johnson was reportedly offered a chance to retain his current position at Penn State but declined, opting instead to leave Penn State for greener pastures.

Those pastures just so happened to Columbus, Ohio as Ohio State's Defensive Line and Assistant Head Coach. In a fitting twist, Johnson will fill the vacancy left behind by Mike Vrabel who was hired by former Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien to join his Houston Texans' staff.

While fans may see Johnson's move as something done out of spite after not being named Penn State's next head coach, it's much more likely a man reaching the final years of his career looking for a chance to win it all. After 18 years at Penn State, Johnson will finally get the title and respect that two decades of coaching and recruiting deserves.

Only days after interviewing to replace O'Brien at Penn State, Johnson may have known that his time at Penn State was limited. Even if he coached under Franklin he would have been there because he was needed more than because he fit the mold of a "Franklin guy". Franklin was wise to offer him a position, but Johnson may have been out the door long before that moment ever came. Fans can read into coaching changes and scream conspiracy all they want, but at the end of the day it's a career move.

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“I understand exactly why he left, and that’s his decision and his family’s decision,” said cornerback Jordan Lucas. “I could never be mad at him for that, I understand.”

Why Johnson left is now unimportant to Franklin and the rest of Penn State and filling the massive hole he left behind is now priority No. 1.

Johnson was a highly regarded recruiter and one of the top defensive line coaches in the nation. Considering that Ohio State already brings in some of the nation's top recruiting classes and already has a strong defensive line, Penn State may hurt from the loss of Johnson more that Ohio State truly benefits from the gain.

So now it's an arms race. As Ohio State beefs up, Penn State and Franklin have to do the same.

According to Pete Roussel of, Franklin has already reached out to Chip West, University of Virginia defensive backs coach and one of the nation's top recruiters. Ranked the top recruiter in the ACC and third best nationally by the 247Sports Network, West would be a younger version of Johnson on the recruiting trail with experience in an area Penn State has struggled in over the past few seasons.

If Franklin is able to bring in West and Vanderbilt defensive line coach Sean Spencer, Penn State may be able to make up for the lost ground. Franklin won't be able to completely replace what Johnson brought to the table, but if Franklin is going to live up to his declaration of "Dominating the state" on the recruiting trail that means getting coaches who can help you make good on that claim.

And now it also means going up against Larry Johnson.

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Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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