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Giger: Johnson's decision about business, not betrayal — but he is sticking it to Penn State

Commentary

January 15, 2014
By Cory Giger (cgiger@altoonamirror.com) , The Altoona Mirror

Just business, or is it betrayal? Or maybe a little of both?

Larry Johnson, an admired and enormously successful Penn State assistant coach for 18 years, is heading to Ohio State.

The enemy.

The one team in the entire country that many Nittany Lion fans despise.

The one team in the entire country that Penn State will have to be able to beat consistently in order to achieve the success it wants to achieve, because the Buckeyes not only play in the same conference, they're also in the same division.

The defensive line coach isn't going to Wisconsin. Or Michigan. Or Iowa. Or even Pitt, which is a rival in name only since the teams barely play anymore.

No, Johnson is sticking it to Penn State by taking the same job at the one place where he can do the most potential damage to his former team.

The ultimate betrayal, right?

Some Penn State fans feel that way, and you have every right to that opinion.

To me, it's not such a cut-and-dried issue.

It's actually a very smart move by Johnson, who's probably going to make a lot more money and has a chance to compete for a national championship immediately with the Buckeyes.

It's unfair for any of us to begrudge others for making life decisions they feel will benefit them and their families. If Larry Johnson feels this is the best move for him and his family at this time, then I say good luck to him, great job with everything you accomplished at Penn State and best wishes for the future.

Johnson deserves that much for the terrific things he's done for PSU, including recruiting and coaching numerous All-Americans who went on to become NFL standouts.

He made a business decision, and a good one at that.

But just to be clear here, he absolutely is sticking it to Penn State with this move. That may or may not have been his intention -- only he knows -- but frankly, intent is irrelevant here because to leave one school and immediately go to its most hated rival will undoubtedly be viewed by some as a slap in the face.

Let's look at the facts:

Johnson wanted to be PSU's head coach. That we know.

He didn't get the job. That we know.

He was offered a job on the staff by new coach James Franklin. That we know.

Johnson turned down Franklin's offer. That we know.

But what we don't know is what job Johnson was offered -- defensive line or something better such as coordinator -- and why he turned it down.

We don't know how upset Johnson was that he didn't get the head coaching job.

We also don't know what kind of relationship he previously had with Franklin, a ferocious recruiter himself who worked the same regions as Johnson, making it possible their paths had crossed from time to time.

It's just hard to believe -- impossible really -- that Johnson didn't feel at least somewhat spurned by Penn State after getting overlooked for the head coaching job twice in two years. Whether he deserved the job or not is a different story, and the fact that he had never even been a coordinator didn't help his candidacy.

Enter Urban Meyer, who in a brilliantly shrewd move offered Johnson a job at Ohio State. Franklin already has promised that PSU will "dominate the state" of Pennsylvania in recruiting, and Meyer saw a chance to thwart that by bringing in an ace recruiter who can sell PA kids on his great track record.

In the ultimate irony, the Buckeyes had an opening because their previous defensive line coach, Mike Vrabel, just left to take a job with none other than Bill O'Brien and the Houston Texans.

Now, we don't know what other job offers Johnson might have had, but there's a good chance he wasn't going to get anything better than the Ohio State gig.

People calling it a lateral move because Johnson will have the same title with the Buckeyes are incorrect. Ohio State has a chance to compete for a national title next season, while PSU is still dealing with NCAA sanctions and a bowl ban, plus the Buckeyes almost certainly will be paying him more.

It's a promotion, plain and simple, for Johnson to be Ohio State's defensive line coach right now instead of Penn State's.

OK, so one can understand why he would take that job. But the bigger issue is this: How could he take a job with Ohio State?

What about loyalty? What about bleeding blue and white?

All right, all right. That rah-rah stuff is overrated, and we all know it.

College football is a business. Big business. And these are real people with real lives we're talking about here, not altruistic ideals.

Larry Johnson got a better job, making more money, with a greater chance to win right now.

Creating some hard feelings in the Penn State community just so happens to be the price he has to pay for taking it.

Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. Reach him at 949-7031 or @CoryGiger on Twitter.

 
 

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