Penn State Football: Larry Johnson and Ron Vanderlinden Preparing for First Season Without Paterno
Larry Johnson and Ron Vanderlinden are the only two coaching holdovers from the Joe Paterno regime.
They were highly regarded as two of Paterno’s best assistants, routinely turning 18-year-old freshmen defensive linemen and linebackers into NFL draft picks. And first-year coach Bill O’Brien, upon his hiring in January, was smart enough to retain them in order to stabilize a program that was in disarray at the time.
Now three weeks away from the Sept. 1 opener at Beaver Stadium against Ohio, both coaches are set to return to the field for their first season without Paterno, during a time the program is in full-on rebuilding mode in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
Johnson, the defensive line coach, said the last nine months have been challenging. All of it. Watching Paterno get fired by phone. Learning of the coach's involvement, according to the Freeh Report, in concealing allegations of child sex abuse against Sandusky.
Seeing the program get trampled by sanctions that include a four-year postseason ban, reduction of 40 scholarships over four years and all of the programs wins vacated for the last 14 years.
“You didn’t know what happened,” Johnson said. “You didn’t know what transpired. So you were a part of something you didn’t know you were a part of.”
Before Paterno passed away Jan. 22, Johnson said Paterno advised him to remain on the coaching staff and see the program through its next transition.
“I take that as meaning that I understand where we’ve been, but I also understand where we’re going,” Johnson said. “My being here today is because I see a great moving forward. I wanna be a part of it. I wanna be a part of the building process.”
Vanderlinden, the linebackers coach, was less open about the events since November, when Sandusky was arrested on sexual abuse charges that led to Paterno’s dismissal and sent the program into a tailspin.
“It’s been a great learning experience,” Vanderlinden said. “I’m a part of a new program, a new defensive philosophy, and it’s been very stimulating.”
Added Johnson: “It’s been tough. I’m not gonna lie about that. It’s been a tough nine months, but you stand, you try to move forward. I think about the kids, I really do. That’s my heart and soul is the kids and being there for them.”