- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Penn State interim head coach Larry Johnson wants to remove the "interim" from his title. The school's longtime defensive line coach confirmed Friday that he'll apply for the permanent job following Bill O'Brien's departure to the Houston Texans.
"Why not Larry Johnson? I've been here 18 years," he said on a conference call with reporters. "I know the lay of the land very well."
Johnson also applied for the job in 2011, when it went to O'Brien. He has support from many current and former players such a sophomore defensive end Deion Barnes, who tweeted Thursday, "He's a great leader and will be a great head coach." Johnson said he was "very humbled" by the support.
Athletic director Dave Joyner said Thursday that the search committee would interview Johnson if he had interest in the permanent job. Johnson, who joined Penn State's staff for the 1996 season and has been the defensive line coach since 2000, isn't going to put on a glitzy sales pitch.
"I'll let my work stand for itself," he said. "I'm not going to change who I am to get this job."
Whether or not he's the choice, Johnson will continue to oversee the staff and Penn State's recruiting efforts until a permanent head coach is named.
Some notes from Johnson:
All of O'Brien's assistants -- other than Charlie Fisher and Ron Vanderlinden, who resigned following the season -- remain in State College, and Johnson expects them to be in the office Monday. O'Brien said earlier Friday that he'll interview the Texans' leftover assistants before making any decisions on his staff.
Johnson has been talking with 2014 recruits and planning official visits to campus between Jan. 16-19. He declined to discuss specifics of those conversations.
Johnson said O'Brien reached out to every Penn State player after taking the Texans job to explain his reasoning. Johnson also is talking to current players. He made contact with quarterback Christian Hackenberg and Hackenberg's father, and he expects Christian back for the start of classes Jan. 13.
Johnson hasn't given much thought to remaining at Penn State if he doesn't get the permanent job. Asked about bringing back Vanderlinden, the school's popular longtime linebackers coach, Johnson said, "That's a great question, but I'm not there yet."
ESPN's Brett McMurphy reports that Vanderbilt coach James Franklin, Miami coach Al Golden and Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak are the top candidates for the Penn State job. Both Golden and Munchak played at Penn State, and Franklin is a native of Langhorne, Pa., who played at East Stroudsburg.
All three are sitting head coaches. Johnson's last head-coaching experience came at the high school level in the Washington D.C. area.
Is Johnson a realistic candidate? The committee should listen to what he has to say, but he likely wouldn't be their first choice.