Monday, January 13, 2014
Johnson's departure a blow to PSU
By Josh Moyer
Getting James Franklin as Penn State's head coach was a home run. Getting longtime assistant Larry Johnson to stay, in addition to Franklin, would've been a grand slam.
But after an energetic introductory press conference, one that enlivened Nittany Nation with Franklin's talk of domination, Happy Valley's been forced to come down off its high. Johnson announced Monday night he will not return to coach the Nittany Lions, despite receiving an offer to reclaim his former position.
"I'm at peace," Johnson told ESPN.com. "I have no bitterness. I have no ifs, ands or buts about looking back. That's just not me. I'm good; I'm good."
Johnson interviewed to be the Nittany Lions' head coach but, ultimately, the search committee went with Franklin. Penn State's longtime assistant was adamant -- very adamant -- he wasn't forced out or didn't leave simply because he didn't receive a promotion.
But Johnson's reasoning -- allowing Franklin to move on -- doesn't change the kind of blow this is to Penn State. Or the potential the program would've had with him staying.
Franklin can, and most likely will, dominate recruiting in the DMV (D.C.-Maryland-Virginia). He coached the Terps before his stop at Vanderbilt, and he's a Pennsylvania native who's familiar with that recruiting footprint. But Johnson coached at Maryland high schools; he started building up that recruiting pipeline two years after Franklin graduated from college.
Franklin and Johnson, together, would've been an unstoppable force. Franklin joked he doesn't get much sleep and, now, Big Ten newcomers Maryland and Rutgers are probably sleeping a little easier knowing they don't have that pair to contend with.
Johnson was a player favorite who's been part of the Lions' staff since 1996. He's garnered a lot of good will in that time, and numerous former and current players took to Twitter during the coaching search to offer support .
If the Penn State coaching search was a democracy, one voted on by players, Johnson almost certainly would've been the head coach.
That's not to say he was the best man for the job; he never held a permanent title above position coach. But he had long ago earned the loyalty of his players. It won't be easy now for PSU to hold onto ESPN 300 DT Thomas Holley.
It's not the end of the world for Penn State. And it's certainly not the end of the line for Johnson, who should have no problem finding a job elsewhere. But it's also certainly not a positive for a program that's seen more staff turnover in the last three years than it's likely ever experienced in its 127-year history.
Johnson was the last coaching link to Joe Paterno, and he was a player and fan favorite. It's the end of era at Penn State. And now it's time for Franklin to start a new one.