Urban Meyer’s Biggest Recruit: Larry Johnson Sr.

Football, The Rev — By on January 16, 2014 at 10:57 am

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According to Rivals.com, the Ohio State Buckeyes currently have the second-ranked recruiting class in the nation, behind only Nick Saban’s team down in Tuscaloosa. Yet the biggest recruit that head coach Urban Meyer just signed won’t be found on any of those recruiting lists — not Rivals, not Scout.com, not ESPN, not anywhere.

That’s because Ohio State’s best recruit won’t be putting on pads or hitting anybody. Instead, he’ll be roaming the sidelines, scouring the recruiting trail and doing the best job in America of coaching up the defensive line. That recruit is none other than Larry Johnson Sr., the longtime defensive line coach at Penn State, who decided to turn down an offer from new Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin to stay on at the university he’s served so well for more than 19 years and instead do the the unthinkable — head west to the Horseshoe.

For those of you who don’t know, Larry Johnson Sr. is the best assistant coach most of the country probably doesn’t really know much about. But you should. While he’s never been a coordinator or head coach at the collegiate level — OK, technically he was interim head coach in the weeks between Bill O’Brien’s departure and Franklin’s arrival at Penn State — he’s been hands down the best defensive line coach in the nation. Year in and year out, he’s developed top NFL talent, the likes of Courtney Brown, Jimmy Kennedy, Anthony Adams, Devon Still, Jared Odrick, Aaron Maybin, Ed Johnson, Tamba Hali, Jordan Hill and soon to be DaQuan Jones.

He’s coached four Big Ten Defensive Lineman the Year winners — Brown, Hali, Odrick and Still — seven first-team All-Americans and 15 first-team All Big Ten performers. Plus, he just so happened to be the one recruiting a whole heck of a lot of these guys. In fact, Johnson has widely been considered Penn State’s best recruiter for years now.

Oh, and he’s also the father of former 2,000-yard rusher Larry Johnson Jr., the guy who was robbed of the Heisman because Carson Palmer played a nice game on national television against Notre Dame, and who also became a Pro Bowl running back for the Kansas City Chiefs. His other son, Tony Johnson, played wide receiver at Penn State, and his daughter Teresa played softball at Penn State.

It’s perhaps Urban’s biggest coup since taking the reins in his hometown state. The rest of the Big Ten was already terrified of Meyer moving in and running roughshod over the competition. Now he gets one of the best position coaches and recruiters in the entire nation to join him — poaching him from a rival no less.

In the eyes of many a Penn State fan, it’s a heartbreaking loss. Johnson was the last of the old guard on the Penn State staff — the lone bridge to the celebrated and now troubled past. When the fallout came from the entire mess a couple years ago, he was the one coach that every Penn State supporter wanted to stay. When O’Brien kept him on board, it was lauded as his best coaching decision he could have possibly made. And when Franklin came in, every Nittany Lion fan prayed L.J. Sr. would stay.

He didn’t. And I can’t blame the man. He had served his time, nearly two decades, and served it well. He turned down opportunities to advance at other universities, most notably shunning Michigan State for a chance to be the Spartans’ defensive coordinator. Penn State was where he wanted to be, where he wanted to rise up the ranks. But he never quite got that chance, was never able to move up the ladder when the new regimes came in. So instead of remaining put, he decided to join forces with the enemy, giving the Buckeyes even more recruiting and coaching power.

I know Ohio State is a school that can recruit itself and that Meyer himself is a master recruiter, so some Buckeyes fans may not fully grasp just how big of a hire this is. Larry Johnson basically owned the Maryland territory in recruiting at Penn State and was the sole reason top defensive line recruits like Thomas Holley chose Penn State. Want proof? With the news that Johnson was leaving, Holley, one of the most highly regarded players in the incoming freshman class of 2014, changed his commitment, opting instead to head to Urban’s old stopping grounds in Gainesville.

It’s a huge blow for Penn State. And an even bigger gain for Ohio State.

If you think Urban Meyer and company already were a challenge too tough for the rest of the Big Ten to consistently overcome, it’s only gotten more difficult. Larry Johnson Sr. isn’t just any assistant coach — he’s a true difference maker both on the sidelines and the recruiting trail.

So as impressive as Urban Meyer’s recruiting class is shaping up to be, his biggest recruit is actually the hexagenarian who’s crossing the border from Pennsylvania to Ohio.

Rev. P. Revere

Reverend Paul Revere, aka Joe Boland, is a sports blogger out of Philadelphia whose life revolves around sports 365 and a quarter days per year. Keep up with Rev at his own personal blog, The House That Glanville Built and on Twitter.

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    6 Comments

  • Chuck Chillout [insert 5 fly aliases] says:

    Man…when I saw that ESPN alert popped up on my screen….you couldn’t stop me from smiling! This is going to be epic. Can’t wait to see what he’ll do with Bosa & Washington next year.

  • Pete D says:

    Yeah him leaving woulda sucked but him leaving to OSU is just brutal.

    As a PSU fan and alum, I don’t have hard feelings. Although if he was going to leave, I hoped it wouldn’t be for a “lateral” move. I know Urban gave him the “Assistant Head Coach” title but a DC job at a big time school or a HC job at a middling school in a big time conference is what I would have been happier with for him.

  • DL says:

    Penn State doesn’t deserve to have nice things. Good for Ohio State.

  • David Wright says:

    Larry Johnson was my son’s HS football coach and his most important mentor in life generally! Larry became the head football coach of McDonough HS in Pomfret, Md when it was first opened and built their football program into 2 Md. State Championships while my son played for him! He also coached their track team to a Md. State Championship an oversaw all their sports teams as the schools Sports Director. McDonough had many very disadvantaged kids and he was a force for good conduct and achievement across the entire student body. Every time you saw him in a hallway he was surrounded by kids. After his stint at T.C. Williams as had football coach he was asked to return to assist Cecil Short (his principle at McDonough) when he took over another HS in the county as his Assistant Principle. As a retired police officer in that county I can tell you that that school was the worst in the entire county for police calls. One one call I was on I grabbed a highly likely suspect only to find out she was a teacher! She was wearing bib overhauls with noting on underneath them, had dirty hair under a bandannah and the direst feet I ever saw, even in Viet-Nam! 2 Weeks after Cecil Short and Larry took over I was making a routine patrol check through the schools hallways and saw that same teacher. She was wearing high heels, a nice suit, nice makeup and was very professional looking. I no longer hear bad language being used in the hallways and the students were actually polite. Larry was the reason my son was recruited by most of the major football schools in the country and the reason he went to Penn State as a line backer who in his senior year became a team co-captain! This is something that is seldom heard about in Larry’s background, nor when people talk about him. He is truly more than a football coach, he is also a life coach, a person who really deeply cares about all the players in the program, not just the ones he recruited, or who play his positions, but all of them. His wife is one of the nicest people I every met and she is a mother figure for nearly all the players Larry comes in contact with.

    I will always bleed Blue & White! I still believe Joe Paterno was given a raw deal and didn’t have a clue about Jerry Sandusky, or he would have instantly fired him and had him charged criminally! That’s just who Joe and Sue were and are! Penn State has lost a great disciple of Joe and Sue Paterno, a character builder, mentor, a builder of men who become successful outside of football and a great football coach who would have made an exceptional Head Football Coach at Penn State.

    Urban Myer has never been one of my favorite people, though I do believe he is an exceptionally knowledgeable football coach who has always stepped into a good program. His hiring of Larry Johnson as his Assistant Head Football Coach/Defensive Line Coach was a stroke of divine guidance from somewhere and will play many dividends for many years to come for the Ohio State Football program. Larry is one of those unique people who walks down the center of the road without ever deviating from it, except to pull up those who are down in the ditches to join him!

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