Deion Barnes. Garry Gilliam. Jordan Norwood. DaQuan Jones. Jimmy Kennedy. Adam Taliaferro. Adrian Amos. Anthony Adams. Jared Odrick. Devon Still. Jake Kiley, Nyeem Wartman, Quinn Barham, Graham Zug, Austin Johnson.
Not all of those men played defensive line under the tutelage of Larry Johnson. Not all were recruited by him. But all of those players, among others, have publicly thrown their support behind the elevation of Larry Johnson from interim to permanent head coach of this Penn State football team, a distinction made all the more immediate in the wake of reports that Johnson does plan on seeking the position.
During his press conference Thursday, David Joyner was asked about the possibility of promoting Johnson from defensive line coach to the helm of the Nittany Lions. After praising his integrity and leadership to hold together Penn State during this time of uncertainty, Joyner was noncommittal, and shrugged off the potential influence of current and past players, but suggested that if Johnson sought the position, he would be a legitimate candidate:
We certainly are sensitive to our student-athletes and what their attitudes are and thoughts and feelings, always. Coach Johnson is a tremendous individual and if Coach Johnson, you know, wants to get into this mix, he will be very much welcomed and certainly get every strong consideration.''
Johnson, who interviewed for the vacant position two years ago after Joe Paterno's dismissal, is the longest-tenured member of Penn State's coaching staff, having served as special team and defensive ends coach, and then defensive line coach, since 1996. LJ is, of course, not merely one of the best (clean) recruiters in the conference and the country, but one of the best position coaches nationwide, having produced seven All-Americans and twelve draft picks (five first-rounders) in his fourteen years as defensive line coach, with DaQuan Jones certain to make it thirteen this April. And, as has long been completely obvious but is even more clear now, the consummate Penn Stater is universally beloved, not only by the young men he's groomed into NFL prospects but almost everyone he's interacted with.
Regardless of whether the interim tag is stripped from his title, just about every Penn State player, alum, and fan hopes that LJ will play a role on the next coaching staff. Perhaps the best decision Bill O'Brien made in his two seasons at Penn State was retaining Johnson, as well as Ron Vanderlinden, before the latter's stunning departure. And hey, he's got head coaching experience, serving at the helm of T.C. Williams High School--yes, the one from Remember the Titans--as well as other high schools in the Washington D.C. area, winning three state titles and earning Coach of the Year honors six different times.
Johnson is scheduled to address the media in a conference call at 1:30 today, and will speak to them in-person following that. We can expect that he will address his candidacy then.