Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien confirmed today that defensive line coach and star recruiter Larry Johnson, Sr. will remain on the staff in his current role. The announcement came at O'Brien's introductory press conference at the Nittany Lion Inn on campus. Johnson was spotted in the media seating before the event, sparking an immediate reaction on twitter that the assistant coach would be joining the new regime in Happy Valley.
The decision by O'Brien to ask and get Johnson to stay is a very important step in the transition for the staff. But just as important will be Johnson's ability to continue recruiting the current class of players for 2012. He has long been the most successful recruiter at Penn State, and should be able to at least salvage what work had been done over the past few months.
Considering O'Brien is set to return to the Patriots until their season is over--New England made the playoffs this season at 13-3--recruiting has and will continue to be a major concern for many in and around the program. But having Johnson around should alleviate some of the pressure.
As for on-the-field positives, keeping Johnson on the staff will ensure consistency at one of the team's most successful positions, defensive line. Johnson has produced more than a half-dozen All-American defensive linemen in his 11 years on Penn State's coaching staff. I'm pretty sure he was one of the most important assistants to keep in Happy Valley.
There was another unconfirmed rumor out there than O'Brien was also trying to keep linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden on staff. But I haven't seen anything more on that, and O'Brien said nothing of it in the presser. For all we know, it could be totally bogus, or they're simply working on getting his agreement to remain on staff.
Even if Johnson is the only former staffer to stay, it makes an impact on the team and community. O'Brien came off strong when promising to uphold the tradition and culture of Penn State football. I have a feeling that inviting and getting Johnson to stay will go a long way toward his improving his political capital among the fanbase. But it's not just that. Not at least trying to keep Johnson would have been a bad move in football terms.
One last word on Johnson, however. This seems to contradict what I've always thought, that Johnson would leave Penn State when Joe Paterno leaves. Granted, the situation is quite different than what he probably imagined surrounding Paterno's departure. But if Johnson's assumed intentions to leave the staff with Paterno were true, O'Brien must have made a pretty compelling case for him to stay, even if for only a year or two.