Illinois offers Johnson big money to join staff

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson met with Illinois officials this weekend and reportedly received a very generous offer to join Ron Zook's staff.

Illinois would pay Johnson around $400,000, a sizable increase from what he currently makes at Penn State ($200,000-$250,000).

The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News' reported that Johnson could become Illinois' assistant head coach and "de facto defensive coordinator." Zook currently has two defensive coordinators, Curt Mallory and Dan Disch, so it would be interesting to see if he shuffles responsibilities should Johnson agree to come aboard.

The Illini were average at best on defense this fall, finishing ninth in the Big Ten in scoring (26.6 ppg). The front four, which Zook called the team's strength before the season, were a disappointment.

Johnson obviously has strong ties to Penn State and roots on the East Coast that could keep him in State College. Penn State returns an excellent defense next fall and will contend for the Big Ten title. But it would be tough for Penn State to match Illinois' salary offer, and with no guarantee of a coordinator position in the future, it would be hard to see Johnson turning down this opportunity.

Though salaries for assistant coaches are really getting out of hand, I really like this move from Zook and Illinois. The program lost momentum last fall, going 5-7 and missing a bowl, and the departure of offensive coordinator and top recruiter Mike Locksley was significant. Locksley made $500,000 at Illinois, so the school has some money to lure top assistants.

In addition to new offensive coordinator Mike Schultz, Johnson would give Illinois another veteran assistant and, more importantly, he would maintain the recruiting ties to the Washington, D.C., area. Johnson is one of the Big Ten's top recruiters and undoubtedly would continue to bring top talent to Illinois.