James Laurinaitis and Matt Guerrieri Making Big Recruiting Impact Since Becoming Full-time Assistant Coaches at Ohio State

By Garrick Hodge on February 22, 2024 at 11:35 am
James Laurinaitis

Though both James Laurinaitis and Matt Guerrieri haven’t been full-time assistant coaches at Ohio State for long, both have hit the ground running in recruiting.

Laurinaitis had already been very involved in recruiting during his one-year stint as a graduate assistant the past year, being instrumental in eventually landing Ohio State freshman linebacker Payton Pierce and building relationships with prospects in the 2025 and 2026 classes. 

The Ohio State linebackers coach essentially auditioned for a full-time staff role for Ryan Day during the active period in January following the firing of Parker Fleming. Although he was still a graduate assistant at the time, OSU was allowed to send Laurinaitis on the road because it was shorthanded in its coaching staff and designated him as the 10th coach allowed to travel.

“There's a lot of logistics to figure out,” Laurinaitis said of his experience on the road. “Ever since I was young, I think it was because of my dad, I always wanted to be on time. So that was always what popped into my mind. If I told a coach I was going to be there at a certain time, I wanted to be early or on time. You’re trying to map out how many schools you can see within a certain amount of time and prioritize what players you want to see in those time periods. I thrive on the opportunity to meet these players, their coaches and the people who are important to them in person. I was grateful for the opportunity and look forward to continuing to do it.” 

Laurinaitis viewed his first road trip as his chance to make his case for the open staff position and wanted to make a favorable impression on Day. He and Day began their recruiting swing in Florida, stopping in to see top 2025 linebacker targets Tarvos Alford and Elijah Melendez.

“Coach Day was with me Day One when we went through Florida. Quite honestly, I viewed it as a job interview when I was down there with him,” Laurinaitis said. “I knew I was going to be presenting to a couple of guys what we offer. Thankfully, they were guys I had previous relationships with and I was really comfortable with it. I took it as a job interview and I’m glad I did.

“I was so comfortable in the respect that I knew the players that I was going to talk to, I had relationships with them, I knew the material that I had to present. And so I was just ready. I wasn't anxious, there was no nervousness about it. Because a lot of it was just talking ball with them. And that comes second nature to me.”

Laurinaitis visited Alford a second time later that month, this time alongside defensive coordinator Jim Knowles. Alford is arguably the Buckeyes’ top linebacker target in the 2025 class and talks to Laurinaitis nearly every day. The Florida standout, who has a commitment date set for the end of March, was thrilled to hear Ohio State made him the permanent linebacker coach.

“Man, it was great,” Alford told Eleven Warriors. “I’m excited for my guy, he’s gonna do some great things.”

Laurinaitis sells recruits on Ohio State using his personal experience being a standout player for the Buckeyes and the opportunities that come with it.

“I try to be an ambassador of Ohio State. I love this school. It's changed my life. It's done wonders for me and my family,” Laurinaitis said. “To play here, recruit your position at the school you went to at the place that you love, it's so natural. And so, when you're explaining it to people, like, I'm sure there are some coaches that have to come off as car salesmen, there’s really none of that ‘cause I've lived it. And I think that's a huge benefit, when you're talking to young people trying to convince them to come to your school, it's like, ‘This is what it did for me.’

“I love this place. And I want to raise my girls around this place, because of how special it is and how it changed my life. And I know how it can change all these other young men's lives.”

Guerrieri also had spent a year in Columbus before being a full-time assistant, serving as an analyst for Knowles in the 2022 campaign before leaving to be Indiana’s co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach for one season. 

When Guerrieri officially started his second stint at Ohio State, he was in Columbus all of 24 hours before immediately hitting the road recruiting to build relationships. 

“It’s been fast-paced, but that’s how it should be,” Guerrieri said. 

Guerrieri's top priority was to accompany Day, Jim Knowles and Tim Walton on a trip to Georgia to make a pitch to Caleb Downs, the top transfer portal player available this offseason. 

“You know what the stakes are when you take the job and you’re ready to go no matter what it is,” Guerrieri said. “So you get a call this is happening, you kiss your two sons and wife, see you later, and you go.”

Guerrieri said he had known Downs before that meeting, so having familiarity with the freshman All-American was crucial. 

“I think relationships help,” Guerrieri said. “Whether it’s just a handshake or to have a deep relationship. I think that definitely helped. Especially when things were so sped up with him. But obviously Tim’s relationship with him and his family was critically important.”

Unlike Laurinaitis, this isn’t Guerrieri’s first job that’s allowed him to recruit players on the road. Guerrieri was heavily involved in recruiting players to Indiana as the team’s defensive coordinator, but he admitted recruiting at Ohio State is a bit different in some ways.

“I think the first thing is, you have access to everyone in the country,” Guerrieri said. “In other places, you don’t have access to that level of a person or recruit. And here, you have a lot to sell with the Block O, the things that have been represented over time and current tradition and history.

“Every place has different challenges. The guy that you’re recruiting at Ohio State is the elite of the elite, and the challenge is getting that player to Ohio State. It’s the closing of that and showing that recruit why Ohio State is the best place in America for him as a student and a football player.” 

Guerrieri has worked hard to develop relationships with priority targets in the 2025 class such as Faheem Delane and Trey McNutt. He’s also built a rapport with new targets Ohio State has offered within the past six weeks, including James Johnson, DeShawn Stewart and Cody Haddad

“He said I was his first stop on the road and the very first person he came to see,” Johnson told Eleven Warriors of Guerrieri after he visited him on Jan. 16. “He said he was very interested in me and told me about the campus and everything. It meant a lot that (I was the first prospect he offered). I was the very first person, it could have been anyone else, but instead, it was me.”

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