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Hackenberg would be just one of many players encouraged that Johnson has been kept around.

Penn State defensive end Deion Barnes wrote on Twitter, “I know me and many other players would love to have coach Johnson as our head coach, he’s a great leader and will be a great head coach.”

And tight end Jake Kiley tweeted: “Nice to hear that keeping Coach Johnson as our head coach could be an option. No one knows us or the school better.”

Johnson said he had a great final conversation with O’Brien, who became “emotional” talking about his departure. O'Brien led the Nittany Lions to two winning seasons (8-4, 7-5) while restoring some tempered enthusiasm in Happy Valley.

Less than two years after succeeding Paterno, O'Brien was introduced Friday in Houston as the Texans’ coach.

“I love the players at Penn State and I respect their toughness and their resiliency and everything that they’ve demonstrated on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “I do regret not being able to continue with the great kids on that team. While I tried never to mislead anyone, I understand that some people feel let down. But again, it was a decision that was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me.”

And it could lead to one for Johnson.


AP College Football Writer Ralph D. Russo contributed to this report.