It didn’t take much critical thinking to look at Ohio State’s defense last season and know that changes to the coaching staff would be coming under Ryan Day.
Safeties coach Alex Grinch departed for Oklahoma. Defensive coordinator Greg Schiano left for the NFL, as did linebackers coach Bill Davis, and cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson was not retained.
The last man standing on defense was defensive line coach Larry Johnson. Johnson was never expected to be let go, but there were some rumors that he could choose to move on. Instead, he stuck with Ohio State, which was very significant for Day.
“Very, very important,” Day said. “Larry has been great for me. He was great for me in the summer. He’s been great for me the last couple months.”
There isn’t much that Johnson hasn’t seen. He’s gone through coaching changes and been on the staff of great head coaches. The entire team respects him and responds to him, which has made him a valuable resource for Ryan Day.
Johnson is viewed as one of the best defensive line coaches in the nation by those in the know. Some would even tab him as the best. Of course, that didn’t stop Day from going out and hiring Greg Mattison, whose name would also be found at the top of most of the “best” lists.
And Mattison feels the same way about Johnson that Day does.
“I have the utmost respect for Larry Johnson,” Mattison said. “Recruiting against him. Whenever you play in a league together, you always get a chance to see the other team’s defensive line. And I would always watch their defensive line and watch his coaching.
“All you’ve got to do is look what he’s done with guys and where they’ve gone to the next level. If anybody — I mean, anybody that’s ever watched, they know this guy is a great D-line coach.”
Keeping Johnson was a necessity for Day and each member of the new defensive staff is excited to working with him.
So if the new guys are happy about Johnson sticking around, you can imagine how the rest of the team feels, particularly those guys up front.
“He’s a guy that everybody respects,” Day said. “Obviously, the defensive line is the heart and soul. Offensive and defensive line are the guys that run the team. Any time you want to be a championship team, if you don’t win the line of scrimmage, that’s not going to happen.”
Johnson teaches the game as well as anybody in the nation, and is also one of the game’s best recruiters. He has built relationships with players that go back well before their first practice as a Buckeye, and will go on well after their last practice as well.
“More importantly, you have to win the locker room,” Day said. “The defensive line is a big part of that. What he’s recruited to the defensive line, how those guys feel about it. More than that, he’s a father figure to everybody on the team. That was important in making him the associate head coach.”