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Elder LJ coaching new start

Posted: 10:10 a.m.

There are skeptics about Larry Johnson. But after Tuesday's introductory news conference they couldn't deny his cool or intelligence. The first Larry Johnson says the more you see, the more you'll like.

"As a father and as a family we're so happy and grateful that he's with a great franchise and a coach like Marvin Lewis to get it turned around," said Larry Johnson, not long off the Penn State practice field Tuesday. "It's a great spot for him to start up his career. It's strange because most running backs at 30 are at the end, but he's just starting again."

Larry Johnson is a coach's son and Larry Johnson the first is the guy that taught him. Now in his 14th season as a defensive coach for Joe Paterno, Johnson says his son is still the same little kid that watched NFL Films until the tapes wore out.

"His heroes are my heroes that I grew up watching," said the 56-year-old Johnson. "He knows them all. Jimmy Brown. 'Night Train' Lane. Marion Motley. He loves the game."

The father says the son has "a bad rap." The father admits "it has been a tough two weeks." But the father believes the son has learned some things and he also believes he's in a better place.

When the father was a high school coach in Maryland he met the Bengals head coach when Lewis was the defensive coordinator in Baltimore taking part in an all-day clinic and both have kept tabs on each other.

"Marvin is known as a guy that cares about players as people and I think that's going to really help Larry," Johnson said. "But he knows when to get tough. Marvin knows when to put the hammer down and I hope he does. It meant a lot to Larry that Marvin reached out to him and called him (last week)."

A city-wide referendum basically got his son exiled from Kansas City after some unfortunate Twitter remarks concerning the head coach and gays. It ended an already controversial career in town. His father says this isn't what his son is about, but he has to change it and a change of scenery is the perfect start.

"The only way to change it," said the father, who either texts or talks to his son pretty much every day, "is to start from the bottom. And I think that's good. Let people know that what they're writing about him is wrong. That's not him."

The father's scouting report: "He's passionate about the game. He's knows the game, he loves the game. I think he's going to fit in with those guys. He loves kids. You get him around kids and he falls in love."

"You hurt with your kids and it's been a tough two weeks," he said. "But whenever he gets on the field, the first, second or third game or whenever, I think you're going to see the old LJ and that he's got plenty left."

The son turns 30 Thursday and asked if his son has some tires left, the father says he's got more than enough. In his first two NFL seasons he carried the ball just 140 times and in his six full seasons he carried more than 200 times in a season twice.

"He's never really been used up," Johnson said. "He had to wait his turn in Kansas City the first couple of years and it was really the same thing in high school and college."

With Penn State's season coming to a close, the father gets his first chance to see the son's new surroundings in the "Battle of Ohio" against Cleveland Nov. 29 in Cincinnati, just three weeks after the Lions' tough trip to Ohio. Columbus to be exact.

"That's OK. I don't mind coming back," Johnson said with a laugh. "It will be good to see him."

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