James Franklin has suffered his first major loss as Penn State's new head football coach.

Larry Johnson is leaving the Nittany Lions after 18 seasons of dedicated service.

It's bad enough that PSU is losing an outstanding defensive line coach and its best recruiter. Now comes the news that Johnson will likely bolt Happy Valley for one of its most bitter rivals - Ohio State.

A Sports Illustrated report says that Johnson has accepted an offer from the Buckeyes to become OSU's defensive line coach.


In a way, Franklin can blame his predecessor, Bill O'Brien, for this situation.

First, O'Brien twice passed over Johnson when picking a defensive coordinator at PSU. That couldn't have made L.J. too happy.

Then, when O'Brien left PSU to become head coach of the Houston Texans, one of his first hires was OSU defensive line coach Mike Vrabel. O'Brien knew Vrabel from his days as an assistant with the New England Patriots.

Vrabel's departure from Columbus, of course, opened the door for L.J. to take that job.

It shouldn't be all that surprising that Johnson finally left PSU. Not only did O'Brien overlook him when choosing defensive coordinators, the school's brass twice bypassed him when choosing its head coach, first choosing O'Brien and then Franklin.

Johnson was initially named the school's interim head coach when O'Brien left and he quickly indicated his desire to become the permanent head coach. He was reportedly given an interview for the job, but he was likely never a serious candidate, despite his long years of service and the support of PSU players - both past and present.

You can hardly blame Athletic Director Dave Joyner and company, however, for PSU's decisions. O'Brien and Franklin both boasted better resumes than Johnson. O'Brien had been an offensive coordinator for one of the most successful franchises in the NFL and Franklin had been a hugely successful head coach at a school - Vanderbilt -- that had long been a Southeastern Conference doormat. Johnson, meanwhile, had never even been a defensive coordinator at the college level.

At the same time, you can hardly blame Johnson for leaving. Even though Franklin offered him a job to remain as PSU's defensive line coach, Johnson had apparently hit his ceiling in Happy Valley and would have to move on if he wanted fulfill his career ambitions - especially at the age of 61.

It's true that the move to Ohio State could be considered a lateral one. But it's also true that the Buckeyes' program is in significantly better shape right now than Penn State's. They are no longer under severe NCAA sanctions, unlike PSU, and haven't lost a regular-season game in two years under Urban Meyer. If that kind of success continues in Columbus, Johnson may find it easier to land a coordinator or head coaching position in the future.

Plus, the guess is that Johnson will also likely make more money at Ohio State.

It's really a no-brainer for L.J.

As expected, the classy Johnson took the high road when he announced his departure from Penn State on Monday night, saying simply it was time to "move on."

Johnson will leave behind a lasting legacy in Happy Valley. He developed six first-round draft picks and seven first-team All-Americans. He's coached standouts such as Jared Odrick, Tamba Hali and Courtney Brown. Two of his sons, Larry Jr. and Tony, also played for Penn State during Johnson's term. Running back Larry Johnson Jr. was a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2002.

He's also considered one of the East Coast's top recruiters, especially in the Maryland/Virginia/District of Columbia region. In 2006, Rivals.com selected Johnson as the national college football recruiter of the year.

Now Johnson will apparently take those skills to Ohio State.

That move will make Franklin's job that much harder. It's better to have Larry Johnson by your side than on the sideline of a top rival.

That ship has sailed, however, and both sides must move on.

There's no denying, however, that it's Franklin's first big loss at Penn State.

Larry Johnson will be missed.

Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com.