Larry Johnson moving from Penn State to Ohio State

Larry Johnson, interim head coach after Bill O'Brien left the Lions, was passed over for the top spot.
Larry Johnson, interim head coach after Bill O'Brien left the Lions, was passed over for the top spot. (AP)
Posted: January 16, 2014

The Big Ten rivalry between Penn State and Ohio State got a little more enthralling Tuesday amid reports that former Nittany Lions assistant coach Larry Johnson has accepted a job as defensive line coach of the Buckeyes.

Sports Illustrated and ESPN.com reported Ohio State's hiring of Johnson, who spent 18 seasons as a Penn State assistant, the last 14 as defensive line coach. Johnson said Monday he was leaving the Nittany Lions even though new coach James Franklin had asked him to continue to lead the defensive line.

Johnson is considered one of the top high school recruiters in the country. He has been especially successful in the Washington area and will go head-to-head against Penn State's new staff for highly rated players in the region.

An immediate concern to Penn State is whether four-star high school defensive tackle Thomas Holley of Brooklyn, N.Y., who said his relationship with Johnson persuaded him to choose the Nittany Lions over Florida, would be inclined to check out the Buckeyes.

What's even more interesting about Johnson's move is that he'll be replacing Mike Vrabel. Vrabel left the Buckeyes to take a job on the staff of Bill O'Brien, the former Penn State coach, with the Houston Texans.

Johnson was interim head coach of the Nittany Lions between the departure of O'Brien and Franklin's official hiring on Saturday. The 61-year-old assistant interviewed with the Penn State search committee last week but was passed over for the job despite widespread support from current and former players.

"Coach Johnson was a great motivator and a great coach," linebacker Mike Hull said Tuesday. "He came ready to practice every day and he really got the guys pumped up. It's definitely going to hurt losing him, but I'm sure we're going to bring in another guy that's a great coach. I just wish Coach Johnson the best."

Some Penn State players made their first public comments Tuesday about Franklin, the former Vanderbilt head coach, who met the team for the first time on Sunday night.

"I think he's going to be a really good coach," said Hull, who has a year of eligibility remaining. "He seemed like he was going to stick to what he did at Vanderbilt to help build Penn State's program. I was really enthusiastic how he said he was going to recruit, and also about how he's going to bring a toughness to our football team."

Cornerback Jordan Lucas said he knew how Franklin turned Vanderbilt's program around and led the Commodores to three bowl games in three seasons. The meeting, he said, left a "great" first impression.

"He is a players' coach, it seems like," Lucas said. "He has a very positive attitude and he wants to get the ball rolling real fast here. I know all the guys are real excited about that. We're just real anxious to put the work in and see how far he can take us."

Guard Miles Dieffenbach agreed, saying that Franklin "cares a lot about the team and our relationships. So that's something I really look forward to, is building a relationship with him."

In recruiting news, a third former Vanderbilt commitment, 6-foot-6, 275-pound offensive tackle Brendan Brosnan of Park Ridge, Ill., has flipped his pledge over to Penn State, several recruiting websites reported Tuesday.


jjuliano@phillynews.com

@joejulesinq

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