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Penn State notebook: Nittany Lions players respect former coach Johnson's decision to leave

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Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson Sr. coaches during the Eastern Michigan game at Beaver Stadium on Sept 07, 2013, in University Park.
Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, 7:54 p.m.

Seven weeks ago, Larry Johnson Sr. and his family had several Penn State players over for Thanksgiving dinner. During the uncertain recent nine-day stretch in which Johnson was the Nittany Lions' interim head coach, he regularly spoke with players.

“Just to make sure we were OK mentally,” cornerback Jordan Lucas said.

Lucas, like many of his teammates and former teammates, supported Johnson's decision to decline an offer from new Nittany Lions coach James Franklin to remain on staff.

But what if Johnson ends up coaching for a team Penn State is playing against this season?

“It won't be weird at all,” said Lucas, a starting cornerback. “If he is on the opposing sidelines, all the power to him.

“Coach Johnson, I understand exactly why he left, and that's his decision and his family's decision, and I can never be mad at him for that. I understand.”

That was a theme from several Lions players and recent alumni who stood behind Johnson, an 18-year assistant at Penn State.

Sports Illustrated reported Tuesday that Johnson accepted an offer from Ohio State to become the Buckeyes' defensive line coach. When asked to confirm the report when reached via phone Tuesday, Johnson said “not yet.”

Known as one of Penn State's top recruiters, Johnson had a relationship with the team that extended well beyond the defensive linemen.

“He's been really involved with the team — really, all the guys,” guard Miles Dieffenbach said. “Everyone loves him. He's just a great coach.”

“He came ready in practice everyday and really got the guys pumped up, so it's definitely going to hurt losing him,” linebacker Mike Hull said. “But I'm sure we're going to bring in another guy who's a great coach.

“I just wish Coach Johnson the best, no matter where he goes.”

School adopting variable ticket pricing policy

Starting next season, the price for individual tickets will vary based on the opponent.

Certain tickets for games against Mid-American Conference opponents will cost as much as a 60 percent less than what fans will pay for the same ticket for the Ohio State game Oct. 25 at Beaver Stadium.

Penn State announced Tuesday it is switching its football ticket prices policy to a variable model that is becoming increasingly popular in the industry.

The university will use expected demand to set prices, meaning, for example, seats in the North upper end zone for September games against Akron and Massachusetts will cost $40, while those same seats will be $100 for the Ohio State game.

“This structure provides more pricing choices to accommodate rising travel costs and tightening family budgets,” Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner said in a statement.

The Akron and UMass games ($40-$140) will be the cheapest tickets, followed by the Maryland and Temple games ($60-$140). Michigan State and Northwestern ($80-$150) form a third tier while the Ohio State game will cost $100-$200 on an individual-ticket basis.

O'Brien: ‘Not accurate at all' fans chased him out

O'Brien spent significant portions of a pair of national radio interviews Tuesday talking about his time at Penn State and why he left.

When asked if it was a so-called faction of Joe Paterno supporters who played a factor in agreeing to become coach of the Houston Texans, O'Brien told ESPN Radio, “No, that's not accurate at all. I felt that I had a ton of support at Penn State, and my staff had a lot of support at Penn State.”

O'Brien said he “regrets” an off-the-record conversation with the (Harrisburg) Patriot-News in early December in which he repeatedly cursed and indicated fans would be to blame when he'd leave. The conversation was chronicled in a column published Jan. 1, hours after O'Brien called players to inform them he was leaving.

“I feel bad about that conversation,” he said on CBS Radio's “The Jim Rome Show” on Tuesday. “I apologize to people about that conversation, and I wish it never happened. But it did, and I'll leave it at that. I know that Penn State is a very special place, and they just hired an excellent football coach in James Franklin.”

Chris Adamski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.




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