Larry Johnson feels that his nearly 20-year resume at Penn State makes him a worthy candidate to be its next head coach.
For now, the standout recruiter and defensive line coach is the interim leader of the Nittany Lions, the point person for current players, as well as incoming recruits who are preparing to make their commitments binding.
Meanwhile, he also is seeking to become Penn State’s next permanent head coach. He has applied for the position like he did in late 2011 after Joe Paterno was fired and before Bill O’Brien was ultimately hired.
“The thing I can say is, ‘Why not, why not Larry Johnson?’ I think I know the lay of the land very well.
“I’m not a sales person. I’m going to let my work stand for itself, and my passion. I’m not going to do anything differently and change who I am to get this job. All I want to do right now is bridge the gap and make it as comfortable for players as possible.”
Then he paused momentarily and shifted back to himself. “A lot of guys who have never been head coaches (turned out to be) great head coaches. You’ve got to start somewhere.”
Johnson, 61, has been with the program since 1996 and has coached seven first-team All-America defensive lineman and six first-round NFL Draft picks.
He also has arguably been Penn State’s top recruiter for years, particularly impressive throughout Maryland, Washington, D.C. and northern Virginia, where he was a high school head coach.
In January of 2012, he helped lead the day-to-day football operations while O’Brien was busy helping coach the New England Patriots into the Super Bowl.
Now, he is in complete charge — at least for a bit.
So, “the focus is not on me, the focus is on the players” and “keeping the program moving forward.” He did confirm that he has spoken with prized freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg and his father and is positive about his intentions of sticking with Penn State.
Though Johnson said he doesn’t know the longer-term intentions of individuals, he does expect most if not all of O’Brien’s staff to report to work at Penn State on Monday as the head coach search continues.
And though his name is not on most rumored short lists of favored candidates, several current and former players have expressed their desire through social media that he be offered the position.
“You go through life and you’re thinking about making an impact in young folks’ lives, and I’m very humbled by that … that guys think that much of me,” he said.
Certainly, he may the hardest-working Penn State football man since late on New Year’s Eve.
“Losing a lot of sleep,” he joked, when asked specifically about what he’s been doing as interim coach. “Working pretty long hours trying to man everything and keep things moving forward. … We’re not slowing down.”
That means Penn State football business, such as an upcoming recruiting visit weekend, pushes on.
“You like to come (to Penn State) for the coach, but you want to come for the place, to get a great degree,” Johnson said. “It’s a great place and a great institution, and those things are still in place.
“Penn State will get a great coach.”