Illinois is in discussions with Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson about becoming the new Illinois defensive coordinator, but Michigan also could be interested in hiring Johnson, sources said.
Johnson would be a great addition. He's done an excellent job of recruiting the Washington, D.C./Maryland turf vacated by Mike Locksley, including landing standout receiver Derrick Williams and a bunch of other top recruits. Although Penn State's defensive line had troubles against USC in the Rose Bowl, Johnson is a widely respected defensive line mentor. The Trojans give a lot of D lines trouble.
Coach Ron Zook and Johnson have scheduled a meeting for this weekend, sources said. Johnson is a veteran Penn State assistant, whose two sons, Tony and Larry, played at Penn State, Tony at wide receiver, Larry at running back. But as a defensive coordinator, Johnson would receive a salary increase from his estimated $200,000 salary. Penn State is not known for boosting its assistants' pay, and Illinois is apparently willing to pay what's necessary in the increasingly competitive world of assistant salaries. That might be even more true after it lost offensive line coach Eric Wolford, who will make $325,000 a year with his move to South Carolina.
Due to the departure of Locksley, who was making $500,000, Illinois has money available for assistants. (Locksley's replacement at offensive coordinator, Mike Schultz, won't be making Locksley money.) Bringing in Johnson as defensive coordinator could be a delicate matter with current co-defensive coordinators Curt Mallory and Dan Disch. But Zook seems determined to upgrade his staff, and if he needs to use the coordinator position as a bargaining chip, that doesn't seem to be out of the question.