Football Recruiting: Let's Play the Feud

By Jeremy Birmingham on January 14, 2014 at 5:00p
Larry Johnson is trading in his Lion pantsHow will Larry Johnson, Sr. impact 2014?

Last week, Ohio State's defensive line coach Mike Vrabel left his alma mater for a job coaching linebackers in the NFL. His departure shocked most of us and left a hole not only in the team's deepest and most talented position from a coaching standpoint, but it also meant that Urban Meyer lost arguably his most effective recruiter.

Today, less than a week later, it appears that both of those needs have been filled with the reports that the Buckeyes will hire former Penn State staple Larry Johnson, Sr.

Aside from the nearly 20 years of experience at Penn State, Johnson would bring a recruiting resume that rivals anyone in the country, especially when it comes to working with and securing commitments from East Coast talent. He developed six first-round draft picks along the defensive line since 2000 and is known as a regimented, steady coaching presence.

In previous years, the rumors about Johnson were slanted towards the negative, that he was an overtly negative recruiter. Johnson's tactics, it's been rumored, were especially heavy-handed against Ohio State, but this is about winning and when you're head-to-head with Ohio State for a recruit. I think it's a bit myopic to think any staff in the country is saying anything positive about other schools when you're trying to secure a commitment.

Simply put, the addition of Larry Johnson, Sr. is an absolute "win" for Meyer and Ohio State, both on the field and in the living rooms. Not to mention, it adds another interesting layer to the developing Ohio State/Penn State dynamic that the Nittany Lions' hiring of James Franklin will inevitably bring. Buckle up, folks, we've got new rivalries developing and that's good for everyone.

Will there be any immediate impact to recruiting for 2014? We'll take a look at that and a few other stories making the rounds in today's recruiting update.


There are most certainly a few players that immediately come to mind when it comes to Johnson, Penn State and Ohio State. The first of which is Brooklyn defensive tackle Thomas Holley. Holley was waiting to see what moves James Franklin made along the defensive line before deciding his future with the Nittany Lions, and the decision to let Johnson go coupled with his move to Ohio State could certainly heat things back up pretty quickly here. 

"But Jeremy, I thought the Buckeyes had decided Holley wasn't what they were looking for at defensive tackle?"

First of all, kudos for paying attention. To clarify that, I'll try and state it as plainly as possible, a former Buckeye coach who would have had the responsibility of coaching Holley was not as keen on the 6-foot-4, 285-pound defensive tackle as others on the Buckeye staff were. Now that said coach has departed, the possibility does in fact exist that Holley's interest in Ohio State — and vice versa — will crank back up. If Holley is able to "move past" the notion that he wasn't "wanted" by Ohio State and chalk it up to a single coach's opinion, Johnson could definitely bring him to Columbus with him. I do believe that as the former coach was able to decide against Holley, Johnson would be able to choose in his favor when it comes to Urban Meyer's ultimate verdict on the matter.


There is not likely any correlation between Ohio State's chances with Solomon Thomas or Malik McDowell and the hiring of Johnson. Neither of them have been recruited by him up to this point, but the Buckeyes will likely put him on the case quickly, especially as it pertains to Thomas, who had developed a very good relationship with Vrabel prior to his departure.

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer is slated to speak with Thomas this week and having concrete news about who could be his future coach will help alleviate confusion about defensive identities moving forward. While I still think Thomas is bound for Palo Alto (he was accepted into Stanford this week,) the Buckeyes have made him their top priority and will work exceptionally hard the next three weeks to try and sign him come February 5th. One thing that could help the Buckeyes? Stanford accepted a commitment from defensive end Uriah Leiataua last night, their fourth defensive end pledge in their 2014 class. 

Today it was announced by Pete Thamel that Ohio State would hire Chris Ash, the defensive co-ordinator at Arkansas to round out there defensive staff, and while his immediate impact on recruiting is certainly going to be felt less than Johnson, Ash and the Razorbacks were in the top five for Thomas and he is scheduled to make an official visit to Fayetteville the weekend of January 24th. While Ash was not personally recruiting Thomas, it can't hurt the Buckeyes to have another familiar face on board when Thomas heads to Columbus at the end of the month. That said, sources close to Thomas indicate that most of his recruitment comes down to the position coach he'll be playing under, so Johnson has a few weeks to really work on that relationship.

Prince won't be a Buckeye...but LJ Sr. could help in Maryland moving forward.Could Larry Johnson help nab more of the east coast's best?


Another top defensive tackle, Derrick Nnadi from Virginia Beach, (Va.) is scheduled to visit Ohio State this weekend, the first weekend off of the recent recruiting quiet period. Nnadi's visit is tentative — Ohio State was uncertain as of last night whether or not it would even happen — but he has already visited Penn State officially (December 7th.)

The biggest issue for Ohio State and Nnadi at this point is simple: space. The Buckeyes have 21 commitments currently and have room for two, maybe three more commitments in 2014, and I think Nnadi would fall as the least likely of the four defensive lineman to choose Ohio State. If he still makes his visit this upcoming weekend, things are bound to change.


Nothing to see here. Ohio State will face Mike Gesicki over the next few years when he's lined up at tight end for the Nittany Lions. Larry Johnson is not his recruiter, not his position coach and unfortunately for Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes, has nothing to do with his recruitment.


Jermaine Roberts and Mike Rogers are two names that have been tossed around over the last two months with regards to Ohio State's secondary, but I think that the expected commitments of Marshon Lattimore and Erick Smith will effectively end Ohio State's pursuit of the two southern cornerbacks. Roberts is still scheduled to visit Ohio State the weekend of January 24th, but I'd be surprised if that official visit takes place. 

Rogers has not visited Ohio State despite being named regularly as a potential option for the Buckeyes. I'd not expect anything to continue on this front. The Buckeyes are effectively done recruiting for 2014 outside of their two pressing needs: a fifth offensive lineman and another defensive lineman, or two.

Ohio State has not officially announced the hiring of Johnson, but, you know, #SOON.


Comments Show All Comments

Alpo's picture

Thanks for the report Birm, great as always. Here's to hoping that we could land one if not more of these stud linemen. Sounds like Holley could be back in the mix after all.

Thomas's picture

The depth on the DL is insane. Adding two more would take it over the top. Solomon Thomas is a future 1st rounder, would love to see him in a Buckeye uniform. 

Seattle Linga's picture

Birms - you're the best - thanks - Holley would be a HUGE get and I know that the relationship with LJ must be playing a role if he does a 180 spin.

avail31678's picture

Great stuff, thanks! 
Question:  In the Solomon Thomas/Malik McDowell section, you don't really say much about McDowell.  I get that Larry Johnson won't have much of an effect, but where does McDowell stand?  Still likely an MSU lean?  Does TTUN have a chance?  Do we have a chance?

Jeremy Birmingham's picture

I think it's MSU for McDowell and right now Thomas is the OSU priority. 

PittBuckeye's picture

Who would you want most? I hear a lot of people high on Thomas, but I'm a McDowell fan, am I just missing something?

Jeremy Birmingham's picture

From what I know of each recruit and what I've seen on film, Thomas would be my preference.

sharks's picture

Pull Holley, McDowell, or Thomas, then an O Lineman and call it a class. Exciting times.

A man got to have a code...

tennbuckeye19's picture

Birm, thanks for the info. And just for you, how about a Blake Lively gif?

Brutus' Left Nut's picture

If Johnson did negatively recruit against OSU while going after Holley, it would be interesting how he would spin it now that he is here haha.  Whatever gets the job done though!
Any idea what happened to the ex-Houston DB coach?  Did he turn the job down or was Ash our first choice?

Jeremy Birmingham's picture

Joseph was never offered the job, from what I've gathered.

Brutus' Left Nut's picture

Got it, thanks.  Makes me feel better about Ash.

45OH4IO's picture

Trust me, he will find a way to spin it. These guys are good salesmen. Like, if they ever had to stop coaching, they could make 6 figures selling cars kinda good.
I've gotten to hear from a big D1 coach's spouse the kind of stuff he has to do and put up with and they go after it like starving dogs going after a quarter pounder. And the crazy thing is they do it even when they KNOW where the kid is going to go!

BuckToAsT's picture

I'm pretty sure someone like LJ (or Kerry Coombs) could sell me a five dollar bill for twenty dollars.  And I went to business school!

Seattle Linga's picture

Like selling Ice to the Eskimos !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

toad1204's picture

He could sell a catsup popsicle to a woman in white gloves

Nothing like dancing on the field in 02... 

TheBadOwl's picture

I know this doesn't necessarily have to do with LJ, but with the new d-coordinator coming from Arkansas, does that mean that we might have a shot to flip Froholdt in 2015?

When I walked in this morning and saw the flag was at half mast I thought, "Alright, another bureaucrat ate it." but then I saw it was Li'l Sebastian. Half mast is too high. Show some damn respect.

Buckabroad's picture

Thanks for the write-up, and especially for clarifying the Holley situation. Any of Thomas, Holley, Nnadi or McDowell would be a fantastic finish for the 2014 class.

"The minute we stop expecting greatness, we become Wisconsin."

oregonianbuckeye's picture

Thanks, Birm. Do you think we add 2 total to this class (meaning 1 OL and 1 DL), or could we sneak in a 3rd or 4th player in the 2014 class? 

Bamabucknut's picture

Would be nice to get definitive information that the hire is official...and what his responsibilities will be.

Buckeye_in_SEC_country's picture

Does Brady Taylor become a Buckeye this weekend?

Jeremy Birmingham's picture

I don't think so. He says he wants to visit Virginia Tech again out of respect for the Hokies, so I'd think it happens after that visit, but anything could happen I reckon.

weimerad's picture

While I'm thrilled with the hire of Johnson I think the Chris Ash hire was a reach. Urban could have gotten somebody better. Dare I say he should have gone after Jeremy Pruitt and a few other names. And who is going to call the plays? Ash isn't any better than Fickell

Furious George 27's picture

I would say that Ash having been a DC before with very good defenses at Wisconsin has proven more than Fickell who has technically been nothing more than a "co" DC. Until Ash proves otherwise there is no logical way to make that assumption 

Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

Buckeye5000's picture

Thanks for the excellent article...per usual. I do have one question though that was not addressed in the article. Are any of the current commits, with Coach Vrable going to the pros and tOSU hiring Coach Johnson, considering decommiting.

2014 Undisputed National Champions!

Jeremy Birmingham's picture

Discussed this a bit last weekend, I don't think we'll see any current commitments going anywhere.

Buckeye5000's picture

Thanks Birm. Unfortunately I didn't see the article last week. Sounds really good that the studs we having coming in on the D-line are not thinking about going elsewhere.

2014 Undisputed National Champions!

DenBuck's picture

Thanks, Birm. Johnson was perfect to hate at PSU but we will love him here. Ash I've never heard of but hard to believe URBZ just "settles" for someone who's not a superstar. 

Buckeye For Life

Buckeye_Chief's picture

I think the Johnson hire is solid across the board but I am hoping for the best with regards to the hiring of Ash have to believe in Urban's ability to find the right coach.

"I was tired of trying to work my way around the back so I just ran him over.” - Joey Bosa


bucknut3011's picture

Interesting new hires.  Not overly surprised with Johnson.  A bit more with Ash.  Any thoughts on how this shapes up to improve the secondary play?

FROMTHE18's picture

Awesome Birm. Same feelings for me as a fan. Thomas has been the last guy on my board to bring into the 2014 family of recruits. The rest is gravy. If Holley joins the fun then absolutely its worth celebrating over as Ive thought for a while he is a great DL and would only add to our depth of elite D-linemen. When Vrabel left I thought that was the end of Thomas coming to OSU. Even though I still feel this is the case, never count Urban out. Itll be difficult to turn his attention away from attending Stanford and enjoying the fruits of living near San Fran, but perhaps Meyer has something up his sleeve. Although I'd favor OSU's position in relation to academics meets athletics (thinking specifically on football here), Thomas appears to have really thought this through and so itll be tough to pull him from Stanford after Vrabs left. I love having Johnson on the staff as I believe he is a great DL coach, an excellent addition to the staff in respect to his experience, and a great inclusion into the 'Buckeye' environment. Can he help Urban pull off a few surprises when NSD rolls around? Sure. If not, no worries. I think Urban will be around for as long as he can handle it, and thus Johnson will be around for a handful of years at the minimum, so Johnson's impact on the recruiting trail will pay off in the 2015 class and beyond, if not immediately. 

Nick's picture

Forget San Fran, I'd rather live in the Palo Alto area

teddyballgame's picture

Thanks for the updates


This offseason was rather interesting with all the coaching changes... looks like Jeremy Pruitt made a lateral move from FSU to Georgia after winning a NC after only 1 year on the job... weird, but also makes me wonder if we would have been better off with him than Ash... the Wisky boards can't wait to see our db's line up 10 yards off the line of scrimmage... this sounds familiar....

"I don't apologize for anything.  When I make a mistake, I take the blame and go on from there." - Woody Hayes

otrain2416's picture

I feel like with the D-line situation it should almost be first come first serve. I feel like Thomas is the better of the 4 so if you want to prioritize him at the top you can, but Nnadi, Holley, and McDowell are all good players all played in All American games. Idk maybe its me but I would rather have one of those guys if they're ready to pull the trigger then telling one that wants to commit to hold off in hopes of getting another one and risk getting none. 

We were born to love Ohio State and hate that team up north.

Ebvine96's picture

Birm: any idea why said "former" dl coach was not high on Holley ?

Jeremy Birmingham's picture

Just didn't think Holley was committed enough, passionate enough.

cinserious's picture

He will be now!

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.

cinserious's picture

Thomas Holley sounds so much like Tamba Hali.


One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.

BABuckeye's picture

who is the primary recruiter for 2015 DT Tim Settle? Will Johnson have an impact from already having a relationship with Settle (or his coach) or being an appealing position coach?
also, did Johnson recruit other positions in his geographic area? Could he get 2014 OT Damien Prince to flip, since he is said to "own" the Maryland/DC market?

3-yrds_and_a_CLOUD's picture

I like the hire and I like Ash as a DC, but the guy we really needed was Jeremy Pruitt. I cant imagine that we couldnt have gotten him to come up north if he is willing to go coach the perennially overrated Bull dogs.

“Success is the inner satisfaction and peace of mind that come from knowing I did the best I was capable of doing for the group.”
- Jim Tressel

JakeStevensIsSwag's picture

is there any chance in the world that we could pull Blanding away from Virginia? I thought Virginia and OSU were pretty close

Buckeye fan from PA