Larry Johnson won't return to PSU

Updated: January 14, 2014, 12:43 PM ET
By Josh Moyer | ESPN.com

Longtime Penn State assistant Larry Johnson Sr., the last holdover from the Joe Paterno era, declined a position with the Nittany Lions' new head coach and informed players Monday afternoon he will not return.

Johnson is expected to join the staff at Ohio State, a source confirmed to Joe Schad. SI.com earlier reported on Johnson's future.

Johnson was first hired by Paterno in 1996 and most recently acted as the interim head coach before Vanderbilt's James Franklin was officially introduced. Johnson also interviewed for the head coaching position.

"Getting promoted isn't the issue to me," Johnson told ESPN.com on Monday night. "At the end of the day, it's giving Coach Franklin the chance to move forward. It's his program, his coaching staff and, yes, he offered me the opportunity to stay.

"But at the end of the day, I thought what would be best for me -- and be unselfish -- is the fact that let's move forward. That's my decision. It had nothing do with a job, or not giving me a promotion."

The longtime defensive line coach twice turned down promotions elsewhere to stay with Penn State. He declined a defensive coordinator position with Illinois in 2008, which would've reportedly doubled his salary. And, in 2011, he declined to put his name in for Maryland's coordinator job because he had already promised PSU commits he would coach them the next season.

He helped develop seven first-team All-Americans over the course of his career as a defensive line coach, and a half-dozen players wound up as first-round NFL draft picks.

[+] EnlargeLarry Johnson
Michael R. Sisak/Icon SMILarry Johnson, center, is the last assistant coach hired by Joe Paterno, left, at Penn State.

Franklin offered him his former position of defensive line coach, but Johnson said -- after about three days of thinking -- he decided he wouldn't remain on staff.

"Just know this," Johnson said. "I wasn't forced out, I wasn't pushed out. It was my decision. It wasn't about a head coaching job.

"To be honest with you, I'm at peace. I'm sad, but I'm at peace because it's the end of a legacy and a great time at Penn State University -- and I'm very thankful. My time here will be dear to me the rest of my life, but it's time to move on."

Johnson hopes to coach elsewhere now, although he plans to be "very selective" in choosing his next job. He was a Maryland-area high school coach in the 1990s before settling down in Happy Valley, where he's stayed since Paterno offered him the job over breakfast. He's never held a college job elsewhere.

He declined to mention what schools contacted him at this early point -- but said he didn't mind waiting for the right fit.

Johnson admittedly would've stayed in Happy Valley had Penn State's search committee named him the head coach. But he was adamant that he didn't leave simply because he wasn't named head coach, either.

"I've been here 18 years, and I'm really proud of what I accomplished for my players and in the community and for Penn State," he said. "At the end of the day, you have to look yourself in the eyes and say, 'Do you want to let this program move forward with the new coaching staff?' And that was my decision, to allow this team to go on forward without me."

Josh Moyer | email

Penn State/Big Ten reporter

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