With Bill O’Brien making his exit just two weeks before a number of recruits are expected to enroll at Penn State for the spring semester, interim head coach Larry Johnson has a lot on his plate at the moment. Johnson spoke to the media on Friday for the first time since taking over the reigns and discussed what he’s doing to try and keep Penn State football on the right path.
“It’s not hard [to convince recruits to stay], it’s just a vision,” Johnson said. “We always tell kids during recruiting that you like to come for the coach, but you want to come for the place. You want to come to Penn State to get a great degree and I think that’s still there. If you’re coming to Penn State University, you want to come because it’s a great institution and because you get a chance to play football at the highest level.”
Johnson wouldn’t go into specifics on the recruiting situation and the questions commits have been asking him as the university looks to hire a replacement O’Brien, who was the reason many of these high school players decided to become Nittany Lions. He did reaffirm that keeping recruits on board has been his top priority since being named interim head coach.
“I’ve been losing a lot of sleep and working pretty long hours just trying to man everything, reaching out to players, and its really about communication right now,” he said. “We’re going to plan for official visits in ’16, ’17, and ’18 and we’re going to keep moving forward. … All I want to do right now is bridge the gap and make this as comfortable as possible for our players.”
As we reported yesterday, Johnson has applied for the head coaching position and tossed his name into the hat as Dave Joyner’s search committee looks for the next head coach. Johnson said this afternoon that he isn’t focusing on the job right now, but he thinks that he’s qualified to coach the Nittany Lions.
“I am going to apply for the job here at Penn State University, I can tell you that,” he said. “I interviewed in 2011 for the job, also. The thing I say is ‘Why not? Why not Larry Johnson?'”
“I’ve been here 18 years. I think I know the lay of the land very well,” Johnson continued. “But right now the focus is on the players. I’m not going to worry about Larry Johnson, I’m going to worry about keeping this program moving forward.”
Johnson was asked by a number of reporters about his qualifications for the job and why he thinks he should be Penn State’s head coach. He wouldn’t go into specifics and said that he would save those answers for the search committee and his interview, but Johnson did say that he isn’t going to change anything about himself to try and get the position.
“I’m not a sales person. I am who I am,” he said. “I’m going to let my work stand for itself, my belief and my principle and my passion for the university and the players. I think that speaks volumes about who I am. I’m going to walk in and be who I am. I’m not going to do a big, great sales pitch.”
A number of players have voiced their support for his head coaching candidacy in the last few days, according to Johnson.
“It kind of shows you that you go through life and you think about making an impact on people and you hope that when you do, they understand how important it is,” he said. “I am really humbled by that, that players have supported me and think that much of me that I could be the head coach at Penn State University.”
Here are the rest of the highlights from Larry Johnson’s first press conference as Penn State football’s interim head coach:
On Christian Hackenberg’s status: “I have talked to Christian and his dad and he’s scheduled to be back here when classes start on the 13th, so that’s what we’re perceiving. It was a very good conversation and that’s where we left it. He’s ready to get back here and get going and we’re excited about that.”
On talking to O’Brien after he left: “We had a good, personal conversation. It was emotional. When you build a relationship, you just don’t walk away from it. I think that affected him emotionally, certainly because he cares, but it was a personal conversation and I think that it ended very well. “
On talking to current players about O’Brien’s decision: “When I talked to the players on my conference call, we have not talked about [O’Brien]. I know that he has reached out to every player and talked to them personal and told them the situation. I know they supported him. You move on and life and this is a great opportunity for him and his family so we certainly wish him the best.”
On coaching under Joe Paterno and O’Brien: “I’ve been blessed to work with two very great coaches. Joe Paterno was a father figure to me and a great man. Coach O’Brien comes in behind him and they were two different coaches, but really guys who care about kids, care about education, and care about moving the program forward.”
On whether or not he’d stay at Penn State if he didn’t earn the job: “I haven’t got to that yet. To be honest, I haven’t even thought about that. I’ve just been working on the recruits. I’m going to think about that, but right now, that’s not even in my mind.”
On keeping the coaching staff intact: “Right now, the old staff is here. I don’t know their intention from this point on, but we’re back in the office on Monday, and right now I expect everyone to be in the office on Monday and be ready to go to work.”