LJ In the Wind

The news that long-time defensive line coach Larry Johnson would be leaving the Penn State football program after 18 years broke overnight, and a somber air hangs over Turkeyland this morning. Although this turkey had predicted that he would leave, I feel sad.

LJ was apparently offered to keep his old job and declined after meeting twice with new head coach James Franklin, according to PennLive.com.

We tend to think of things selfishly in Nittany Nation, but before you impute any nefarious motives (usually pinned on guys like Joyner and Erickson because Franklin is still in his honeymoon period), consider that this might be a good time for LJ to continue his personal development as a coach elsewhere. For one thing, if he’s going to have to be part of a new system after being passed over twice or three times for an upgrade, why not look elsewhere? He’s 61 and has some short time horizons to accomplish his goals in life. Time marches on.

Rumor has it that “elsewhere” is Ohio State. (Feeling shudders across the fertile Central Pennsylvania soil.)

Yeah, we recoil in horror. Why would LJ want to defect to the enemy? Well, think about it. You’re 61 and in a dead-end job where you’re loved but stagnating. You’ve been turned down twice for the head coaching job, and there was no interest in making you defensive coordinator. You could keep your present job — but under what terms? Of course, the contents of the discussions between LJ and JF remain secret and will be the subject of the usual unsubstantiated Internet rumors. It’s pretty clear that Franklin wants his own staff and his own team, wants to do recruiting his way, and that he will undoubtedly hire a DC who would be the third under whom LJ has worked since St. Joe’s departure from the program and from this earth.

Have you ever left a job for greener pastures? Have you ever felt like you were getting passed over? Have you ever been pissed off about being pissed on? Have you ever had doubts about how you would fit into a new boss’ scheme? Lots of things must have been going through Larry’s mind. If indeed an offer from Ohio State is on the table and it represents a personal upgrade for him, more power to him! Penn State loves Larry and Larry loves Penn State. That won’t change. He is not defecting to the enemy. He is doing well for himself and his family.

Small world. Mike Vrabel was defensive line coach at OSU, creating a vacancy that was perfect for LJ. Where did Vrabel go? He’ll join fellow former New England Patriot Bill O’Brien in Houston.

But it ain’t official yet. After all, the Columbus Dispatch reported that LJ had not returned a text from them. LOL :) :) (STFU!) 😛

James Franklin’s plan to dominate recruiting in the Keystone State has been dealt a significant blow, as Johnson brings his recruiting skills and long-term connections with him wherever he goes. Better he should go to UCLA than OSU, that’s for damn sure!

His coaching and his love for the players has been unquestionably excellent through the years. Under his watch, seven first-team All-America defensive linemen and six first-round NFL Draft picks were produced by Penn State. At least one, Tamba Hali of the Kansas City Chiefs, is an All-Pro who could be headed to the HoF.

Franklin won’t be introducing his assistants individually. He will announce his team when it is finally assembled and complete.

I think Franklin wants to assume the “daddy” role that has been LJ’s bailiwick and wanted to take firm control of recruiting. Couple those two things with a new DC and new philosophies, and the time was ripe for a change. LJ would be in a constrained box that he had not known for many years at Penn State as his influence and internal respect grew. So, after consideration, he’ll have new, fertile ground to plow, another major program on which to make his mark. It’s an exciting, albeit bittersweet, time for Larry and his family.

This is the last vestige of the St. Joe Administration slipping away. Two other holdover coaches from the O’Brien period, McWhorter and Strollo, were not part of the Paterno legacy. Their fate is unknown at the moment.

I’m sad to see him go, but I wish him well, always! You da man, LJ!


  1. Joe says

    I echo your sentiments regarding LJ-he is a class act.

    Yeah tOSU position rankles me a bit, but why not go to work for the top coach in the conference (although until something changes, he’ll still be working for Fickel who I believe is still the DC).

    Recruiting doesn’t worry me too much. tOSU still pretty much has the pick of the litter in PA and just about anywhere else they go recruiting, and pardon me for my disagreement with our new HC, but PA hasn’t exactly been overflowing with 4 and 5 star recruits for the past several years. If I also believe Franklin (we need a nickname for this guy), his recruiting area pretty much overlaps LJ’s, so I guess the proof will ultimately be who does the better job in the 2015 class.

    I do understand that the DL coach coming from Vandy is pretty well respected, so again we shall see what happens as the season plays itself out. First big test will be see if he can keep Holly from jumping to Florida or the Bucknuts with LJ leaving.

    My bigger concern is that it looks like he’s also bringing his OC with him now. I know there’s comfort in working with “your guys”, but I was hoping for a little diversity of thought in the new staff and not just moving the entire group to State College. Oh well, he’s the boss and can and will do what the hell he wants.

    • says

      I, too, hope (and still do) that what’s his name (will be be FRANKincense or FRANKenstein) will choose an OC wisely. Given Vandy’s deficient offensive performance, I’d hope for him to look carefully. It might turn out that J-Frank knows something about what he’s doing and thinks that the situation will be different at PSU with a decent quarterback. If I knew how to hire a coaching team, I’d be consulting for the NFL instead of writing this diatribe!


      • BigAl says

        How about FRANKfurter since he seems to be a bit of a hot dog. Oh well. he can be OUR hot dog – as long as he WINs.

        All joking aside, he appears to be the slightly black version of Mack Brown – a charming politician and bullshit artist who was also a decent, but not great, coach.

  2. K. John says

    I must say, I am more disappointed LJ is leaving than O’Brien, and not by a little bit. I get that he is probably pretty mad. He did his time and deserved better. But the go to Ohio State? Ugh. I can’t imagine how well he will recruit if if doesn’t have to worry about such petty things as character or academics. On the flip side, maybe he can do something positive at Ohio State and raise their 40 something percent graduation rate a tad….

    • Joe says

      From the conversation with him that was reported today, he didn’t appear to be “pretty mad”, rather he seemed to feel that Franklin needed to have his own coaching staff and it was time to move on. Perhaps he felt he was being persuaded to keep LJ. But change is good and for what ever reason he left, he will always have my respect not only as a great coach, but an even better person.

      • K. John says


        I don’t think he would go to Ohio State unless he was mad about something. If LJ was on the market, there are some head coaches of major programs that would fire their defensive line coaches in order to land Larry Johnson Sr.

        • says

          Why would he have to be “mad about something” to want to upgrade? What is this, high school? Maybe Urbz saw that the timing was opportune and offered LJ something very sweet. It doesn’t require anger — just business sense — for LJ to pull the trigger on that kind of decision. Maybe he would have considered Franklin’s offer if he hadn’t had a better one from Columbus. You don’t know. I don’t know. LJ knows, and he ain’t talking — yet.

          (The truth will inevitably emerge, when it doesn’t matter to anyone anymore.)

          Look, I get it! You’re a dyed-in-the-wool Penn State homey who hates tOSU and can’t believe one of the good guys would ever go there without having a gun held directly to his head. But look at it through an unjaundiced eye, for a change, and turn off your blue and white mind filter. Here’s a guy who was stagnating, passed over, etc., and what’s better for a guy at a time like that than a bump in pay and a whole new stage on which to play? Then, it’s no longer the enemy.

          Please pardon the irony, but I love it how so many Penn State fans think that PSU is the greatest final destination for any coach and why would anyone ever consider taking a job anywhere else. It doesn’t compute with them that other institutions offer the same or better opportunities with a change of colors. You’re in that category, K. John.

          As for your last sentence: You know this how? LOL. 😀 😀

          I think the statisticians’ union should give you a few demerits for representing opinion as fact. The journalism union did so long ago.

          K. John, you’re a trip!


  3. Joe says

    As expected with LJ’s departure, Thomas Holley the 4 star DL changed his commitment to the Gators. At least it’s not OSU!

  4. Joe says

    From BSD:
    “It looks like QB coach Ricky Rahne will be tasked with helping Christian Hackenberg reach the next level in his development.

    Robert Shoop, Josh Gattis, Brenton Pry and Richard Rahne are now apparently listed in the school’s directory.

    Like seemingly everyone else on Franklin’s staff at Vanderbilt, Rahne has proven himself versatile, coaching up the running backs and tight ends in his previous stint at Kansas State (and defensive line before that). It goes without saying that in his three years at Vandy, he never had a quarterback quite like Hackenberg, though coaxing even passable performances out of the likes of Jordan Rodgers, Austyn Carta-Samuels, and Patton Robinette is an impressive enough coaching job in its own right.”

    Fiercely loyal!!!

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