Retaining Defensive Line Coach Larry Johnson Was One of the Biggest Offseason Wins for Ryan Day

By David Regimbal on July 22, 2019 at 2:50 pm
Larry Johnson

When Ryan Day was officially named the head coach at Ohio State, he made big changes to the Buckeyes' coaching staff, and particularly on defense.

It wasn't all that surprising considering how the 2018 season played out. Despite talent at every position and within multiple levels of the depth chart, the Buckeyes defense was routinely gashed.

It started right out of the gate with Oregon State hanging 31 on Ohio State in the season-opener. The Buckeyes only surrendered three points the following week to Rutgers (which doesn't count because Rutgers), but the leaky boat continued to sink.

The worst came on the road in West Lafayette, Indiana, when unranked Purdue scored 49 easy points in a 23-point victory. And a week before the Michigan game, Maryland posted 51 points in an overtime game that featured Terrapins running back Anthony McFarland running for 298 yards and two touchdowns on just 21 carries.

Day knew he couldn't go into his first season as a head coach (on any level) with the same staff and defensive principles. He brought on two new co-defensive coordinators in Greg Mattison and Jeff Haffley and a new linebackers coach in Al Washington.

But Day made the right call by retaining Larry Johnson to coach Ohio State's defensive line.

Johnson was a key part of Urban Meyer's staff after he hired him away from Penn State in 2014 to replace Mike Vrabel. It was a big move for the defensive line coach, who had been with the Nittany Lions since 1996. 

During his time in Happy Valley, he recruited and developed some of the best defensive linemen not just in the Big Ten, but in the country. When Ohio State snagged him away, our very own Ramzy Nasrallah recapped the highlights effectively:

NaVorro Bowman, Derrick Williams, Devon Still, A.J. Wallace, Aaron Maybin, Phil Taylor, Darrell Givens, Stephon Morris, Devon Smith, Sean Stanley, Derrick Thomas, and Malcolm Smith: Just some of the players Johnson recruited from Maryland to State College, where he also developed seven first-team All Americans on the defensive line.

Johnson brought that same mentality to Columbus, where he helped develop Joey Bosa, Nick Bosa, Dre'Mont Jones, and Sam Hubbard into dominant defenders. He's sent seven Buckeye defensive linemen to the NFL, with several more who are on their way.

You can effectively argue that Ohio State's defensive line was the only redeeming quality for the 2018 defense. Even after the unit lost its superstar in Bosa, Chase Young emerged as the Big Ten's best pass-rusher (leading the league with 10 sacks), and Jones was one of the most disruptive interior linemen in the country.

Without Johnson at the helm, that 13-1 record wouldn't have been a reality.

Day identified that and made it a priority to retain the future hall-of-famer. That decision has already paid dividends in the form of 5-star defensive end Zach Harrison, who signed with the Buckeyes late in the 2019 recruiting cycle, 4-star defensive tackle pledge Darrion Henry and 5-star 2021 commit Jack Sawyer.

Johnson's proven track record as both a recruiter and developer of talent suggests Ohio State's defensive line will continue to be a game-changing force so long as he's on the Buckeyes sideline. Day made sure that happened when he took over, and the defense should benefit from that in 2019 and beyond.

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