Conflicting reports as Penn State's coaching search begins

Larry Johnson, the interim head coach and longtime Penn State assistant, is interested in the job.
Larry Johnson, the interim head coach and longtime Penn State assistant, is interested in the job. (Associated Press)
Posted: January 05, 2014

On what appeared to be the first full day of hunting season - for a new head football coach at Penn State, that is - the rumors and reports were flying. But a consensus Friday revealed three early favorites among the contenders to replace Bill O'Brien.

Two people with Penn State roots - University of Miami coach Al Golden and Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak - along with Vanderbilt coach James Franklin seemed to have the early interest of the search committee.

Conflicting reports existed on Golden. Blue White Illustrated was one of two Rivals.com-affiliated sites that claimed Golden, a former Penn State tight end and assistant coach, had received an offer. However, The Inquirer could not confirm the report and other sites said it wasn't true.

ESPN identified a Penn State source as saying that Golden is eager to interview because "it would be coming home."

Munchak met with Titans officials Friday, and the team said later in a statement that "no final decisions" had been made about the future of Munchak or any other coaches or players. So the former Penn State offensive lineman might be available, though the Tennessean, citing an unnamed source, reported that he will be retained by the Titans.

Franklin reportedly is scheduled to meet with the panel Sunday, the day after his Commodores play Houston in the Compass Bowl, an unnamed source told Coachingsearch.com.

Only one candidate for the job actually came out and admitted his interest. That was longtime Penn State defensive line coach and ace recruiter Larry Johnson, currently serving as interim head coach to aid in the transition from O'Brien to his successor.

Johnson, 61, who also interviewed in 2011 before O'Brien was hired, thinks he won't have to deliver a flashy sales pitch to members of the committee.

"I'm not a salesperson," he said Friday in a conference call with reporters. "I am who I am, and I'm going to let my work stand for itself. I believe in my principles and my passion for the university and the players. I'm not going to do anything different. I'm not going to change who I am to try to get this job. I'm going to walk in and be who I am."

Until then, Johnson is working to "bridge the gap and really make this as comfortable for our players as possible."

"We're trying to keep things moving forward, reaching out to our current players on the squad, talking to those guys," he said. "Really it's about communication right now to our players and our future players, just continuing to move the ship. . . . We're going to move forward until a coach is named."

Johnson said he spoke with half of his players on Thursday and was to speak to the other half Friday.

Johnson, one of the nation's top recruiters, knows he has to keep together the Nittany Lions' 19-man recruiting class - 18 high school seniors and one junior-college transfer. He is planning a weekend for official visits later this month.

"It's not hard. It's a vision. It's what you're looking for," he said. "We always tell kids in recruiting, you like to come for the coach, but you want to come for the place. You want to come to a place where you can get a great degree. I think that's still there. . . . It's a great institution and a chance to play football at the highest level."

Johnson said he had spoken with quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who confirmed he will be on campus when classes start Jan. 13. In an interview after O'Brien's departure, Hackenberg's father appeared to leave the door slightly open for a possible exit.

"He's scheduled to be back here when classes start," Johnson said. "So that's where we're proceeding. We had a very good conversation with them, and that's where we kind of left it, that he's going to be back here and ready to go on the 13th, and we're excited about that."

He said O'Brien, who was introduced Friday as the Houston Texans' new head coach, talked with every player. He also spoke with O'Brien, whom he described as "emotional."

"When you build relationships, you don't just walk away from it," he said. "I think that it affected him a little bit emotionally and certainly because he cares."


jjuliano@phillynews.com

@JoeJulesInq

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