EAST LANSING, Mich. — Larry Johnson downplayed the historic aspect of becoming the first Black head coach, interim or otherwise, in Ohio State football history after OSU’s 52-12 win at Michigan State on Saturday.
“All I was doing is standing in the gap. I didn’t think about any of that. I thought about the fact that we were coming to East Lansing to get a win,”Johnson said.
“I wanted to make sure when I gave it back to Coach Day we were 5-0. It was never about me, it was about the team. It was a great honor. But more important than being the first is that everything I do is for the players.”
One thing Johnson didn’t downplay, though, was the importance of quarterback Justin Fields in making him 1-0 as a head coach.
“If you want to be a head coach for one day you want Justin Fields with you,” he said. “He’s a special young man.”
Johnson has been a college coach for 25 years and was a high school coach for 20 years before that. He is a legend as a defensive line coach who was hired by Urban Meyer in 2014 after spending 18 years at Penn State.
He applied for the Nittany Lions’ head coach’s job in 2012 and 2014 but did not get it. In January 2014 he was Penn State’s interim coach for nine days before James Franklin was hired.
Ohio State coach Ryan Day said when he was sidelined by a positive coronavirus test there was never any doubt the 68-year-old Johnson would take over as interim coach.
“This was something that was made a long time ago. His title is associate head coach. I had that conversation with Gene (Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith) right off the bat when I took the job. You never know what’s going to happen in today’s day and age.
“This year we had all these contingency plans that were talked about since the preseason. It’s something I feel strongly about. I think Larry has great leadership. He understands how to motivate a team. When he stands in front of a team the guys listen.
“I think his leadership had a big part in how well our team played today and the energy they played with.
“I couldn’t be happier for him. To see him get the Gatorade bath at the end, I had a tear in my eye,” Day said. “To see that moment for him and this team was special.”
Premonition for Garrett?: Defensive lineman Haskell Garrett batted a pass by Michigan State quarterback Rocky Lombardi into the air and caught it while standing in the end zone for a touchdown in the second quarter.
He said he hadn’t scored a touchdown since high school but he did make an eerily similar play in practice on Thursday.
“It was pretty weird. On Thursday the ball got tipped up and I caught it and ran it back. It was pretty wild,” he said.
Sermon erupts: Running back Trey Sermon, a graduate transfer from Oklahoma, delivered the big plays expected of him when he had a 64-yard touchdown run on Saturday and another run of 25 yards on his way to leading Ohio State in rushing with 112 yards on 10 carries.
Five in a row: Ohio State has beaten Michigan State five times in a row since the Spartans’ 17-14 win in 2015.
OSU went into that game ranked No. 2 and Michigan State was No. 9.
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