Longtime Penn State assistant coach Larry Johnson met with the media on Friday afternoon at the Lasch Building to tackle questions about the program as it moves forward after Bill O'Brien.
Check out the transcript below, provided by Penn State Sports Information:
Have you thought about applying for the head coaching job? What is the general reaction from recruits? What is the message you have been giving them?
Johnson: I really can't talk about recruits, but I am going to apply for the job here at Penn State University, I can tell you that. I can't really talk about what I'm saying to the recruits. I can talk about current players and most of our current players are excited about getting started and coming back for the 2014 season.
Can you discuss your intentions to apply for the job? What makes it a good opportunity now? Have you thrown your name in the hat before?
Johnson: Yeah, I interviewed in 2011 for the job, also, before Coach O'Brien got the job. The thing I can say is, "why not? Why not Larry Johnson?" I've been here 18 years and I think I know the lay of the land very well. Right now the focus is not about me, it's really about our players and our future players. That's my concentration right now. I'm not worrying about what's happening with Larry Johnson, I'm worried about keeping this program moving forward.
If you would not get the head coach job, would you be interested in staying at Penn State in a different role?
Johnson: I haven't got to that yet. I haven't even thought about that, to be honest. The last 48 hours, I've been so busy working on the recruits. Things just happened here at Penn State and we're moving forward. I haven't got to that yet, to be honest. I would have to think about that, but right now, that's not in my mind.
Is there anyone on the current staff that has stuck around to help you out?
Johnson: Right now, the whole staff is here. I don't know their intentions from this point on. Right now, the staff is here. We're all back in the office on Monday and I expect everyone to be here on Monday to go to work. That's what I know right now.
Over the last few days, there's been a lot of former players that have said they want you to be the next coach. How much does that support mean to you personally?
Johnson: It shows that you go through life and you think about making an impact on a young person's life. You hope that when you do, they understand how important it is. I am very humbled by that, by the players and the support out there. I'm very grateful and very humbled that those guys think that much of me that I could be the head coach at Penn State University.
What was the last talk with Bill like? Was there even an option for you to go to Houston?
Johnson: We had a good conversation, a personal conversation between him and I. We talked on the phone. He was emotional. When you build a relationship, you don't just walk away from it and I think that affected him a little bit, emotionally, and certainly, because he cares. It was a good, personal conversation between him and I and it ended very well.
What was your reaction to Bill leaving? What was the players' reaction?
Johnson: When I have talked to the players on my conference calls, we have not talked about that. I know he's reached out to every player and talked to them personally and told them the situation. I do know he did that. The reaction from there, I have not talked to the players, because they are not on campus here, to get their reaction. I know they supported him. We all know you move on in life and it was a great opportunity for Bill O'Brien and his family. We certainly wish him the best.
How difficult is your job right now to keep kids coming to Penn State?
Johnson: It's not hard, it's just a vision, what they're looking for. We always tell kids in recruiting, you like to come for the coach, but you want to come for the place. You want to come to Penn State University to get a great degree. I think that's still there. The kids are still going to come and come to Penn State University because it is a great place and it is a great institution and a chance to get to play football at the highest level. Those things are still there in place. Penn State is going to have a great opportunity to get a great coach. We all know that. They'll find a great coach to carry this program over. I think the kids now are just waiting for what will happen in the next few days.
Have you had a chance to communicate with Christian Hackenberg and get a feel for where he's at?
Johnson: I have talked to Christian, we have talked, I talked to his dad. He's scheduled to be back here for classes starting on the 13th….We had a very good conversation with him. That's where we left it, that he'll be back here and ready to go on the 13th and get going. We're excited about that.
You were on the past two staffs. Was Bill burdened at all by trying to live up to Joe Paterno's legacy?
Johnson: I have not read the article you're talking about, to be honest with you. All I can tell you is I've had an opportunity and been very blessed to be an assistant coach for two great coaches. Certainly, Joe Paterno was a father figure to me, a great man. Coach O'Brien comes in behind him. Two different coaches but really guys that care about kids and care about getting a great education and moving the program forward. That's what I know about the two coaches. I think I've been very blessed to do that.
What has life been like since O'Brien left? What have you been doing?
Johnson: Losing a lot of sleep, working pretty long hours just trying to man everything and keep things moving forward, reaching out to current players on our squad and talking to those guys. It really is about communication right now; communicating to our players and our future players and continuing to move the ships. We're going to plan for official visits in (January) 17, 18, 19; we're planning that. We're going business as usual, we're not going to slow it down. We're going to move forward until a coach is named.
If you were named head coach, is there a possibility of you bringing back Ron Vanderlinden?
Johnson: That's a great question, but I'm not there yet. Really, I'm being honest with you. If I'm appointed head coach, I'll have a coaching list. Ron and I have a very strong, personal relationship. I have not gotten that far to say who I'm going to bring or who I'm going to hire. I think it's too premature to do that right now. It's really about players and moving this thing forward and making sure that our players are happy to come back into the building. Then, we'll have time to think about it when it gets close to that time.
Have you talked to all of the kids that have committed to this class? What is their most pressing question?
Johnson: I have had communication with future players, I have. I can't talk about that, I don't want to break any violations. Those conversations are between us and the parents.
What conversations have you had with current and former players? How have they helped with keeping recruits on board?
Johnson: From what I'm hearing, I'm not a big social media guy, but I understand that there's a lot of things out there on social media that have been really great, positive things said. I know our guys are watching that very closely, our recruits are watching that very closely. That's very positive, I think, in the sense that guys are sharing how they feel about Penn State and how they see the program moving forward. I think that helps in a lot of ways.
At this point, do you feel you need to sell yourself to this committee? Do you think your work over the next few days will help you?
Johnson: I'm not a salesperson, I am who I am and I'm going to let my work stand for itself, in my belief, in my principle and my passion for the university and the players. I think that speaks volumes for who I am. No, I'm not going to do anything different, I'm not going to change who I am to get this job. I'm going to walk in and be who I am. In 18-19 years, that's what I've done here at Penn State University. I'm going to continue to do that. No, I'm not going to give a great sales pitch. All I want to do right now is to bridge the gap and make this as comfortable for our players as possible. That's my main focus right now.
You haven't had head coach experience before this. What do you bring to the table in other areas?
Johnson: I'm not going to do an interview on the phone here; I don't think the search committee has started yet. I'll save those questions for when I'm talking to the committee. I will say this, a lot of guys who have never been head coaches have been good head coaches. One of the greats all-time was Bear Bryant and, ours truly, Joe Paterno was never a head coach, he was an assistant coach. You have to start somewhere. I'll save that for the committee, though.
Wanted to talk to you about your upbringing in eastern North Carolina. You played for Williamston and then Elizabeth City State. How has that made you who you are?
Johnson: You did your homework, that's awesome. That's who I am, a North Carolina guy. You're right, I went to Elizabeth City State University and played for a great coach there. I played for a great high school coach, Herman Boone, if you guys know the movie "Remember The Titans." I've had some great role models in my life that have helped shape who I am as a coach today. I'm grateful to those guys, because that's what started it for me. That's home. That's where it started with my high school coach and down to my college coach, Coach (Tom) Caldwell. From there, I started my own program. I appreciate you asking.
Do you come back to North Carolina a lot? Do you keep in contact with anyone here?
Johnson: I do, I still have some friends there. I still have family down there, my mom is still there. I do go back, not as much as I would like, because of the season. I do go back. I was there about six years ago for a family reunion. I still keep in contact; I have cousins there. That's home for me. I will always say, when I retire I would like to go back to North Carolina. I like the fishing there.
If something didn't work out with Penn State, would you consider coaching back in North Carolina somewhere?
Johnson: That's an interesting question. I haven't got that far yet. Whatever I do, I'll be involved in something working with kids. I can tell you that, that's not going to change.