James Laurinaitis has kept busy since his retirement from the NFL last year.
The former Ohio State linebacker is entering his second year as an analyst for the Big Ten Network, and will begin calling games as a color commentator for both BTN and Fox this fall in addition to continuing to appear on studio shows. Since May, Laurinaitis has also teamed up with Beau Bishop to host the new Bishop & Laurinaitis radio show on weekday mornings on 97.1 The Fan.
After playing for Ohio State from 2005-08 and starring for the Rams in their final seven seasons in St. Louis before finishing his NFL career with the New Orleans Saints in 2016, Laurinaitis decided to hang up his cleats in April 2017.
Laurinaitis’ new career in the media, however, has kept him close to the sport he loves – and he says that getting ready for a broadcast doesn’t feel all that different than preparing to play in a football game.
"The preparation is somewhat similar," Laurinaitis told Eleven Warriors. "You’re still studying film. You’re still watching the game of football. You’re just trying to apply the facts that you know about the game, and everything, and how do I translate it to the everyday fan? And it’s been an awesome challenge.
"At the end of the day, I would be talking football with all my friends and family anyway, so it’s fun to have a kind of inside look into the game and into the conference."
The biggest challenge for Laurinaitis in his first couple months as a radio host, he said, has been learning how to cover sports other than football – soccer, for example, during the ongoing World Cup – but he has tried to be honest with people about what he doesn’t know and learn as he goes. Laurinaitis, who now lives in Dublin with his wife and two daughters, is also glad to be back in Columbus.
"My wife and I met at Ohio State, so we’ve always wanted to come back to Columbus, we’ve always loved the area, we’ve always wanted to raise our family here, so it’s been nice to be back home," Laurinaitis said.
In a different sense, Laurinaitis’ first game as a color commentator will also be an opportunity to go back home, as the Wayzata, Minnesota native is scheduled to call the University of Minnesota’s season opener against New Mexico State on BTN on the opening Thursday night of the season. Laurinaitis is also scheduled to call Arizona State’s season opener against UTSA on FS1 on the opening Saturday of the season.
"Right out of the gate, I’ll do two in one week, a Thursday/Saturday combo, so I’ll be thrown into the fire there," Laurinaitis said. "But I wanted to see how this would be and really how I would do with kind of covering the whole, not only the whole conference but looks like some Pac-12 games as well."
“You’re still studying film. You’re still watching the game of football. You’re just trying to apply the facts that you know about the game, and everything, and how do I translate it to the everyday fan? And it’s been an awesome challenge.”– James Laurinaitis on his transition to a career in media
Laurinaitis doesn’t expect to call any Ohio State games this year, he said, since those assignments will likely go to more experienced commentators. Laurinaitis will join a portion of BTN’s broadcast during Ohio State’s second game of the season against Rutgers, however, because that is also the weekend that he will be inducted into the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame.
A three-time first-team All-American at Ohio State, making him only one of eight Buckeyes ever to accomplish that feat, Laurinaitis described the honor of being selected as a Hall of Famer as "humbling."
"It really is. When I showed up on campus, after my freshman year or during my freshman year in camp, I had legit doubts that I’d ever see the field," Laurinaitis said. "It just seems like an uphill climb because you come from high school football in Minnesota to The Ohio State University, you’re like 'What in the heck is going on?' But just humbled and honored to be a part of it, because this great university has so many phenomenal football players that have come through it. To be in the Hall is pretty awesome."
In addition to two hours on the radio each weekday in Columbus and preparing to call games from the broadcast booth, Laurinaitis also recently produced a 90-minute show looking back at Ohio State’s 24-7 win over Texas in 2006, which will premiere Sunday at 8 p.m. on BTN. Laurinaitis said BTN asked each of its analysts to select a classic game to host an episode on, and he chose the 2006 Texas game because he felt that was the game that propelled his rise to stardom at Ohio State.
"Week 1 that year, we played Northern Illinois in the Shoe, and it was really the first game with a whole new linebacker crew and ultimately defense," Laurinaitis said. "We had lost Donte Whitner, we had lost A.J. Hawk, (Bobby) Carpenter, (Anthony) Schlegel, and to be honest, Garrett Wolfe ran all over us. I think he ran for 200 yards. We beat them pretty good, but we didn’t play well. So to be No. 1, going down there 1 vs 2 in Texas the year after they had just beat us at the Shoe in ‘05 … I just remember being there and thinking personally, you better have a good game, because you played like trash against Northern Illinois.
"We were a team that we knew who we were offensively with Troy (Smith) and Teddy (Ginn) and (Anthony Gonzalez) and those guys, Antonio Pittman, we had a lot of guys that I felt no issues with offensively but defensively, we had to grow up kind of on the road there and see how we would handle the pressure," Laurinaitis added. "So it was just a game that I would say both as a team and myself personally, it was kind of the first realization of 'OK, you made a play now at this level.'"
In addition to Laurinaitis hosting, Sunday’s show will also feature interviews with Ginn, Gonzalez, Malcolm Jenkins, Luke Fickell and Colt McCoy, Texas’ quarterback in that game, among others.
"It’s just a fun, unique experience to be able to relive it that way and glad a lot of my teammates, as well, were able to really jump on with us," Laurinaitis said.
Along with all of his media work, Laurinaitis has also been working as a coordinator for the NFL Legends Community, which brings former players together for events and serves as a resource for former players to learn about programs and benefits available to them. As a coordinator, Laurinaitis is responsible for reaching out to other former players to educate them about the program and encourage them to sign up and take advantage of its resources.
"It’s just really a one-stop shop kind of resource for former guys, former legends to be able to say 'Hey, I need help with X, Y, Z, where can I go?' And to be able to help them," Laurinaitis said. "So just being a part of that crew, and learning about it as well, has been a huge blessing to be able to serve former guys."
With a burgeoning media career that is just beginning and also working to educate other former NFL players and connect them with one another, Laurinaitis has plenty to keep him busy in his post-playing career. But he still looks back upon his years playing for the Buckeyes with fond memories.
"Navigating through freshman year is probably something that I’ll never forget," Laurinaitis said. "I remember the first time running up in Ann Arbor (in 2005), up there and playing them and obviously Bobby (Carpenter) getting hurt and being thrust into action. I remember, unfortunately the national title games that we got whooped up in. But there’s those, and then really the last Senior Day in the Shoe (in 2008), is one that I’ll always remember. We put a licking on Michigan that game.
"There’s so many good memories, and bad, but just all of them, like the relationships that you’ve made with people in that locker room that are lifelong relationships, is what I’ll carry with me."