Penn State Football: Larry Johnson Sr. to Remain on Coaching Staff
Longtime Penn State defensive line coach and coveted recruiter Larry Johnson Sr. will remain on the Nittany Lions coaching staff under newly hired head coach Bill O'Brien.
"I asked Larry to be the defensive line coach," O'Brien said. "He's been a great defensive line coach here for a number of years. I've basically asked him to guide us through the recruiting process these next three weeks because he knows the guys that have committed or that they are recruiting."
For Penn State, keeping Johnson in the fold will be a key aspect of the transition period as O'Brien will finish his obligations with the New England Patriots throughout the playoffs. Johnson is not only a highly regarded recruiter and coach, but also a calming, fatherly presence to those in the locker room.
Even so, Johnson was unsure of his job status until late Friday afternoon.
"I had packed up my office," Johnson said. "I understand it's a business and that a new coach has a chance to bring in his coaches and his philosophy. When you have the opportunity to stay on through all of that, it's a real blessing."
Johnson joined the Nittany Lions staff in 1996 as a defensive end and special-teams coach before taking over the entire defensive line in 2000.
Since then, Johnson has consistently put together some of the most dominant defensive fronts in all of college football. However, what makes Johnson such a highly regarded coach is not only his abilities on the field, but his relationship and respect with players and recruits off of it.
"I called (defensive tackle) Jordan Hill this morning," said Johnson, laughing. "I think I woke him up out of bed. I just wanted him to know that I was staying on the staff."
"He definitely woke me up," Hill said later. Penn State's talented defensive tackle announced earlier this week that he intends to return for his senior season. "I'm just happy and excited that he'll be staying here at Penn State."
Moving forward, Johnson expects to hit the recruiting trail during the small window remaining in January when coaches can still contact recruits. The current contact period, which runs from Jan. 13 through Jan. 28, allows for coaches to make one phone call a week, as well as in-person visits with recruits and committed players.
"I"ll get started with that on Sunday," Johnson said. "We don't have a lot of time, and we only get one phone call a week, so I'll have to make it count."
The impact of Johnson's place on the staff has not only been felt by current players and fans, but recruits as well.
Jamil Pollard, a talented three-star defensive tackle from Westville, N.J., was one of many Penn State commitments who was happy to hear that Johnson would be retained.
"I'm very happy. Coach Johnson is a great guy and I'm happy he's going to be around."
Over the next few days O'Brien will finish selecting members of his staff, which may also include current Nittany Lions coach Ron Vanderlinden. After the staff is put into place, O'Brien will return to the Patriots organization for New England's second-round game in the NFL playoffs.
For Johnson, with a whirlwind process finally coming to a close, he echoed the sentiment of almost every person affiliated with Penn State:
"I'm just happy the process is over. It's time to move forward."