Plenty of questions surround the future of Penn State football. On Friday, Larry Johnson added another one to the pile.
“Why not Larry Johnson?” the Nittany Lions interim head coach said after confirming that he will apply for the job full-time.
“I've been here 18 years. I think I know the lay of the land very well. But right now the focus is really not about me. It's about our players and our future players, and that's my concentration right now. I'm not worried about what's going to happen to Larry Johnson. I'm worried about keeping this program moving forward.”
With Penn State determined to replace the departed Bill O'Brien in perhaps the next few days, top candidates for the job are quickly surfacing.
Aside from Johnson, University of Miami coach Al Golden and Vanderbilt coach James Franklin appear to be at the top of the Lions' list.
The frontrunner may indeed be Golden, a former Lions tight end, captain and assistant coach who has strong ties to the university.
According to multiple reports out of Miami, Golden has cut off all contact with Miami administrators in recent days and is believed to be mulling over the situation.
Despite reports that Golden had been formally offered the job, Penn State confirmed that it had not extended an offer to anyone as of Friday evening.
Golden has not given any public comment about his future.
Franklin, who grew up in suburban Philadelphia and played college ball at East Stroudsburg, has been linked to several high-profile jobs because of his work in improving a Vanderbilt program that had consistently been at the bottom of the SEC.
Texas has reportedly already interviewed Franklin for its opening and Penn State could be next on the list. Texas, however, has reportedly offered its head coaching position to Louisville head coach Charlie Strong.
On Friday, Franklin was in Birmingham, Ala., getting ready for today's BBVA Compass Bowl against Houston. When asked if he was interviewing for the Penn State job after the bowl, Franklin deflected the question.
“I'm more than happy to talk to you guys and answer any questions that you guys might have about Houston or Vanderbilt or these two unbelievable institutions or these two unbelievable football programs,” Franklin said. “That is our focus guys, I'm telling you.”
ESPN had listed Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak as a top candidate for the job, but the Scranton native and Hall of Famer is expected to retain his job after a meeting with team brass on Friday.
If Penn State does ultimately hire a coach from outside the program, Johnson would almost certainly be offered a job on the new staff as he was when Bill O'Brien took over in 2012.
For his part, Johnson said he hasn't had time to consider that option.
“I haven't got to that and I haven't even thought about that yet to be honest with you,” Johnson said. “In the last 48 hours I've been so busy just working on the recruits and working on just things that have got to happen at Penn State moving forward.
“I haven't gotten to it yet. There will be a day where I'll have to think about it, but right now it's not on my mind.”
Instead, Johnson has been hard at work trying to keep the Lions incoming recruiting class intact. He already appears to have achieved one significant victory, as blue-chip receiver De'Andre Thompkins has announced he will remain committed to the Lions after speaking to Johnson.
Thompkins' decision is particularly significant because he plans to enroll at Penn State next week without knowing for certain who his coach will be.
It's another example of Johnson's strong reputation as a recruiter as well as a coach.
Since O'Brien left the program, both current and past Penn State players have strongly endorsed Johnson to be the next head coach.
Johnson, who has been with the program since 1996, considers it to be an honor.
“You go through life and you think about making an impact on a young person's life and you hope that when you do, they understand how important it is,” Johnson said. “I'm very humbled by that, that the players and support is out there.
“I'm very grateful and very humble that guys think that much of me that I could be the next head coach at Penn State University.”