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Ohio State’s Urban Meyer: Larry Johnson right man for job

OSU defensive line coach Larry Johnson Sr. answers questions from the media on National Signing Day Feb. 5 at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.  Credit: Shelby Lum / Photo editor

OSU defensive line coach Larry Johnson answers questions from the media on National Signing Day Feb. 5 at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
Credit: Shelby Lum / Photo editor

Sure, Michigan State was victorious in the Big Ten Championship Game, but since taking over as coach of the Ohio State football team, losses in the Big Ten have been few and far between for Urban Meyer.

Whether it is the 16-1 record accumulated against Big Ten foes — the one loss coming against Spartans in the Big Ten Championship, 34-24 — or having the top ranked recruiting class in the conference each of the last three seasons, Meyer has been dominant.

Now not just content with winning on the field and the recruiting battle, Meyer is claiming victories in opposing teams’ locker rooms.

After spending 18 seasons with OSU’s Big Ten rival Penn State, Larry Johnson Sr. decided this offseason to make the change from blue to red.

“I’m really excited to be here, I really am,” Johnson said Feb. 5 on National Signing Day. “It’s been a great two weeks for me. It’s a change and sometimes change is good … I had a great past and I’m looking for a great future and the Buckeyes give me a chance to have that.”

Taking over as defensive line coach for OSU, Johnson inherits a unit that returns all four starters, including two all Big Ten performers in junior Michael Bennett and sophomore Noah Spence.

Johnson said he looks forward to the opportunity to coach a group with such great potential.

“Just watching from afar and watching it on video tape, I think it’s a very talented young group,” Johnson said. “I can’t wait to get my hands on them … I’m really excited to impart my wisdom to these guys and see how they respond.”

During his tenure at Penn State, Johnson was part of a team that took a share of two Big Ten titles in 2005 and 2008, although these were later vacated by the NCAA.

The team that split the title with the Nittany Lions: OSU.

But Johnson said the rivalry with the Buckeyes wasn’t something that played into his decision to switch schools.

“I want a place where I can go that feels like home … It was a pretty tough decision but a pretty easy decision once I got down to where I wanted to go and coach,” Johnson said. “So it wasn’t about a rivalry, it was about a fit for me and I felt comfortable with this fit to be a Buckeye coach.”

Johnson’s move to Columbus came on the heels of the departure of Mike Vrabel to the Houston Texans in January. Meyer said replacing Vrabel wasn’t all about the product on the field, as Vrabel was an “excellent recruiter” and a “dynamic personality.”

He added that Johnson checks both of those boxes.

“When I was putting together to replace (Vrabel), you can’t lose a dynamic person, personality, energy guy and not replace him where you’re just not going to have that in your program,” Meyer said. “And so we hired Larry Johnson. Larry Johnson is a guy I had great respect for many years.”

Meyer said the courting of Johnson from Penn State could have come sooner were it not for hiring Vrabel.

“(I) made a phone call two years ago when I was hired here in December whatever year that was, I called Larry,” Meyer said. “We discussed Ohio State. But then I made the decision to hire Mike Vrabel. We just didn’t have a spot.”

But Johnson said his decision to remain at Penn State two years ago didn’t detract from his desire to come coach for the Buckeyes.

“There’s no question it’s different, 18 years at one place no question … My staying at Penn State was a decision I made because I’m real loyal to my players,” Johnson said. “That’s why I stayed there all those years, I had a chance to go. It was just at this time, at this juncture, it was the time to separate and separate on good terms and I felt like this was a good opportunity.”

Johnson joined the program almost three weeks before signing day and was almost immediately sent out to secure the signature of some of the top players in America.

One such player was New Jersey defensive end Darius Slade. Not only did Slade surprisingly sign with the Buckeyes, he did it after verbally committing to Michigan State.

That last minute switch came on the back of Johnson.

“We’re talking about a relationship that’s developed over years, it’s not just today,” Johnson said of recruiting Slade. “There are some guys that I’ve known that have committed to Nebraska or committed to Michigan State so it was always an ongoing dialogue with him. I was really close with (Slade’s) family. I coached his cousin Jared Odrick who plays for the Miami Dolphins. So it was just a matter of him deciding what he wants to do. So we communicate and talk and at the end of the day, he’s a Buckeye and I’m really excited about that.”

Johnson is set to get his first chance to be on the sidelines against a competitive opponent Aug. 30 when OSU is scheduled to take on Navy at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

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