Johnson wants to be PSU’s head coach

It’s a valid question, asked by Larry Johnson himself. “Why not Larry Johnson?” he said Friday afternoon, moments after he confirmed he is applying to become the Nittany Lions’ next head coach. “I’ve been here 18 years, and I think I know the lay of the land very well.”

Johnson is serving as the program’s interim head coach with Bill O’Brien now gone, and he already has drawn tons of support from current and former players who would like to see him take over the team.

“I am very humbled by that, by the players and the support out there,” the longtime defensive line coach said. “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.”

Johnson has spent the past couple of days making sure to keep everything in order, which includes talking to the current players and recruits. The players are away from campus on break, but he talked to half the team Thursday night and planned to contact the other half Friday night.

Johnson already has spoken with quarterback Christian Hackenberg, a vital piece of the puzzle going forward. The program needs stability in general, and that includes stability from the quarterback spot, particularly when the quarterback is a standout who just completed his freshman year.

Johnson said he’s under the impression Hackenberg will be staying at PSU.

“He’s scheduled to be back here for classes starting on the 13th,” Johnson said. “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.”

Johnson has long been one of the key recruiters on the Penn State staff, and he has contacted the recruits but wouldn’t divulge anything about the conversations.

He also has spoken to O’Brien.

“We had a good conversation, a personal conversation between him and I,” Johnson said. “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.”

Johnson would like to be PSU’s next head coach, but he doesn’t plan to do any extra lobbying for the job.

“I’m not a salesperson,” he said. “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.”

He went on to add, “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.”

If he doesn’t the get PSU job, Johnson said he has not yet thought about whether he would want to remain on the next coach’s staff.

As for the current staff, receivers coach Stan Hixon is joining O’Brien in Houston, and Johnson said he’s not sure what other assistants are planning to do. He does, however, expect them to show up for work Monday.

Johnson and linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden were retained by O’Brien from Joe Paterno’s staff, but O’Brien chose not to retain Vanderlinden after this season (although the departure was called a resignation).

Johnson was asked if he becomes head coach, would he bring back Vanderlinden, who has had great success coaching numerous star linebackers at Penn State.

“I’m not there yet. … I have not gotten that far,” Johnson said.