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Illinois might be better fit for PSU's Johnson

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Illinois head coach Ron Zook has filled his offensive coordinator vacancy but still needs a defensive line coach, and a very good one could be available.

The (Champaign) News-Gazette's Bob Asmussen writes in his blog that Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson is a candidate to join Zook's staff and would be an excellent fit. The Web site Fightonstate.com reports that Johnson will meet with Zook this weekend.

My advice to Zook: Do whatever it takes to get Johnson on board.

Not only has Johnson produced a string of outstanding defensive linemen at Penn State -- from Courtney Brown to Tamba Hali to Jimmy Kennedy to Maurice Evans to Aaron Maybin -- but he could maintain Illinois' recruiting link to the Washington, D.C., area. Johnson was a legendary high school coach in Maryland before joining Joe Paterno's staff in 1996.

Offensive coordinator Mike Locksley's departure to New Mexico appeared to end Illinois' pipeline to the beltway, but Johnson certainly would bring it back.

Zook called Illinois' defensive line the team's strength before the season, but the group underperformed and coach Tom Sims paid the price. Johnson could have the personality to get the group turned around.

Some might see Illinois as a lateral or downward move for Johnson, but it makes sense in several ways.

Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley is the favorite to replace Paterno if the university chooses to stay in house. Johnson would be a candidate as well, but Bradley's longevity and seniority makes him a likelier option.

Plus, who knows if Paterno will ever step down? He might coach -- and live -- forever. Though being a Paterno assistant brings incredible job security, you can't blame one of his aides for wanting to move up the coaching ranks. Johnson might have an easier path to a top job at Illinois than he would in State College.