COLUMBUS, Ohio — The most important commitment of this wacky new recruiting season for Ohio State didn’t come from a player. And Larry Johnson might not have even needed to reaffirm his pledge in the first place.
The best defensive line coach in the country isn’t going anywhere. And while simply making it clear that Johnson isn’t planning to retire now might not seem like the splashiest move during this crazy time of year, the importance of it certainly shouldn’t be taken for granted.
The rumors and negative recruiting should come to an end. The pipeline of talent to the NFL and the incredible developmental work with Ohio State’s Rushmen will continue. And a guy who looked as energized as ever a year ago and sure looked like he has been enjoying himself on the recruiting trail is going to keep doing what he does best.
— Larry A. Johnson (@R2X_Rushmen1) December 15, 2017
“It was weird,” defensive end Nick Bosa said. “I don’t know who started that, but it’s not true — for at least one more year.”
That is a key stipulation tacked on by the star sophomore, since it leaves the door open to more whispers about Johnson’s future and the possibility that Ohio State will have to replace one of the most important assistants Urban Meyer has hired in his tenure with the program.
Of course, it’s possible that Bosa is only really worried about next season because he’ll almost certainly be heading to the NFL when it’s over, so maybe there’s nothing more to read into it. Either way, even just one more season with Johnson would be significant.
He is 65 now, and Johnson has worked in this grinding profession now long enough to be thinking about calling it a career. At some point, obviously, the Buckeyes are going to need to find a new defensive line coach.
But it was surprising to hear the speculation right now just because Johnson looked so young throughout last season, riding a bike around campus during training camp or coming out of the locker room before games busting out dance moves with his players.
“I feel like he is the best defensive line coach in America,” senior Jalyn Holmes said. “The rumors of him leaving were surprising. He’s one of the greatest defensive line coaches ever.
“It’s going to be hard for me leaving because now I have to find someone similar to him to train with. We’re going to finally appreciate him when he does leave.”
Johnson’s lasting impact was on display again even in the NFL over the weekend, with former prized pupils Joey Bosa and Tamba Hali working on pass-rush moves they learned from him after the game — despite playing for division rivals.
That common thread back to Johnson was enough to ensure a connection between them no matter what, particularly since virtually all of his players consider him to be a father figure. Ohio State now gets to keep cultivating that bond for the time being, and it can also pitch that for future recruits who want to experience it and get the same chance to be coached by a legend.
An opportunity like that isn’t going to be around forever. Ohio State is aware of that, of course, even if Johnson might be the only one deep down who knows what his actual timeline is moving forward.
But that’s a problem for another time thanks to a Twitter commitment that certainly was worthy of a celebration in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
“It’s just more than football,” Nick Bosa said. “Everybody says that, but it’s really true. He’s just like a father figure to all of us. A lot of us are away from home, so having him, and just knowing we can go to him with absolutely anything whether it’s somehow we got in trouble or school stuff or whatever it is, he’ll be there.
“He just loves us for who we are.”
The Buckeyes love him right back.
Even better? Now they don’t have to worry about saying goodbye.
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