Larry Johnson Opens up About Leaving Penn State
Since leaving Penn State to take on the role of assistant head coach/defensive line coach at Ohio State, longtime defensive line coach Larry Johnson has remained quiet about his decision. In one of his only interviews since taking the Ohio State job, Johnson talked to Sports Illustrated about Joe Paterno, leaving Penn State, and Buckeye head coach Urban Meyer.
Here’s the Sports Illustrated Q&A, including a cringeworthy quote from Johnson about getting rid of the Penn State gear he accumulated over nearly two decades.
SI.com: You have strong relationships with two defensive linemen on your new team, Noah Spence and Tommy Schutt. Has it been fun to reconnect with them?
Johnson: When we met for the first time that week, those guys grabbed me and gave me a big hug. Those guys know who I am from the recruiting process, so when I walked in the room I wasn’t a stranger. Those guys did a great job bridging the gap for me when guys said, “What can you tell me about Coach J?”
SI.com: You were a high school coach and then a vice principal in the D.C. area before going to Penn State. How did you end up there?
Johnson: It’s an interesting question. I had just got out of coaching to watch my boys play. I took a vice principal job at La Plata (Md.) High School. I got a phone call saying Joe Paterno is looking for someone for his coaching staff. I’d worked his camps and sent two players there. I get a call that night from him saying, “Come up here, and we’ll sit down and talk.” The rest is history. We never talked about X’s and O’s. It reaffirmed to me that coaching is not about X’s and O’s. It’s about people.
SI.com: You were at Penn State for almost 20 years. What will you do with all that gear?
Johnson: I’ve got a whole closet full of Penn State stuff to find something to do with. (Laughs.) We’ll find a way to move it, maybe the Salvation Army.
SI.com: When do you get used to putting on Ohio State gear after so many years at Penn State?
Johnson: You have to move on, and that’s where I am right now. I had some great memories and great times in my years at Penn State. It’s a new challenge and new adventure for me at this time in my career. Coach Meyer has been outstanding in the sense of me being here and supporting me. I’ve got on the red and look forward to wearing it moving forward.
SI.com: What are your feelings toward Penn State? You obviously were interested in the job when it opened twice in the past few years.
Johnson: I’m not bitter about anything. Maybe the best guy got the job, and that’s OK. I had a decision to make and made the best decision for my family and where I was. I don’t have anything but gratitude for Penn State. I had a great career there. I impacted a lot of young men, and they impacted me, also. I’m happy to be in the opportunity I’m in and have a chance to move on in my career. You can’t think about what could have happened. I don’t live that way and never have.
SI.com: What’s one distinct first impression Urban Meyer has made on you?
Johnson: What really impressed me is what a great recruiter he is. He cares about players and their families. He’s really involved in all phases of these kids’ lives. It has been very impressive to go in home visits with him and see him work.
SI.com: You recruited the D.C. area and Pennsylvania for a long time. How does Maryland and Rutgers coming to the Big Ten change recruiting dynamics?
Johnson: It’s great to get back into those areas that I’ve recruited for so long. It’s going to help me. And Rutgers and Maryland coming to the Big Ten is going to open more doors.
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