Nittany Lions Wish L.J. Well

Lewis, Lucas say Penn State players have no hard feelings over the longtime assistant's decision to leave the program, even if he does land at a rival school.

Longtime Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson announced he was leaving the program Monday. A short while later, published reports surfaced saying he was set to sign a deal to coach the defensive line at PSU rival Ohio State.

On their third day back from a crazy semester break that saw a head-coaching change unfold, the Nittany Lions took the news of Johnson's departure in stride when asked about it Tuesday.

“He's a good guy and a great coach,” receiver Geno Lewis said. “I really do wish the best for him and his family. He's going to do a great job wherever he goes.”

Johnson was named interim head coach when Bill O'Brien left Penn State for the NFL's Houston Texans. Though Johnson interviewed for the permanent post, it eventually went to former Vanderbilt coach James Franklin.

“I understand exactly why he left,” Lucas said of Johnson. “That's his decision and his family's decision. I could never be mad at him for that. I understand.”

Asked exactly what he understood, Lucas said, “I understand Coach Johnson. He was a great coach here. (But) as players and students, we can't dwell on the past. So the next guy who comes in, the defensive line is gonna be under him and work just as hard.”

Johnson was the final holdover from the late Joe Paterno's staff. As such, Lucas said the former Nittany Lion assistant understood “Penn State tradition.” He also praised Johnson for being “a great recruiter” and said that “he just knew the game.”

But his value to the team could not be measured simply by his coaching skills. Lewis said Johnson would even host Thanksgiving meals for the players, because the season stretched late into November and most could not go home for the holiday.

“His was one of the houses we would go to, to eat with his family,” Lewis explained.

Johnson also took his role as interim head coach very seriously.

“I was personally in contact with him two or three times over the break,” Lucas said. “He was just calling to check up on everybody, and making sure everybody was OK mentally and seeing how their family was doing. He made it his responsibility to call everyone on the team.”

Now, if the reports of Johnson being headed to Ohio State are accurate, those same players will be seeing him on the opposing sideline next season. Lucas was asked if that scenario would be “weird.”

“It wouldn't be weird at all, because at the end of the day, you've got to line up and play,” Lucas said. “I have no doubt in my mind that my teammates think the same way. So if he is on the opposing sideline, all the power to him. We're gonna bring it to every team we play.”

Wherever Johnson lands, Lucas is of the opinion that the Nittany Lions can't dwell on his departure.

“He would have been a great leader for us,” Lucas said. “But things didn't happen that way and we have to move on.”

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