James Laurinaitis Feels Ready to Be Ohio State’s Linebackers Coach in Just His Third Year of Coaching

By Dan Hope on February 20, 2024 at 3:53 pm
James Laurinaitis

When James Laurinaitis returned to Ohio State a year ago as a graduate assistant, he said his goal was to “be the best linebacker coach in the country” and to be that at his alma mater. One year later, he’s already taken the first step toward fulfilling that prophecy.

Just two years after starting his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Notre Dame, Laurinaitis is now Ohio State’s full-time linebackers coach, receiving that promotion from Ryan Day last week.

Laurinaitis didn’t know when he returned to Ohio State, the school where he was a three-time first-team All-American linebacker from 2006-08, that his opportunity to be a full-time position coach would come so quickly. But he was confident he could get there sooner than later.

“I was hopeful,” Laurinaitis said Tuesday. “There's a lot of moving puzzle pieces that need to happen. But as things kind of started to go towards the end of the year and moves started to get made, I was hopeful. If you would have said two years ago that, ‘Hey, within two years, you'd be the linebacker coach at Ohio State,’ I'd probably say it was a long shot, not from a credibility standpoint, I think more so from the dominoes that would have needed to fall to kind of make it happen. So just grateful that those dominoes fell and that I'm here and I've been given the opportunity.”

Although he was only a graduate assistant in title last season, Laurinaitis was already integrally involved in coaching the linebackers alongside defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, so he doesn’t expect his role to change drastically with his position. That said, he knows he bears a different level of responsibility to ensure Ohio State’s linebackers perform up to Ohio State’s standard now that he is the actual linebackers coach.

“I don't think a lot is different. I certainly felt like the linebacker coach last year. I think the guys would have said the same thing,” Laurinaitis said. “I think for me, it's just knowing that the title brings that like, those are your guys. That's your room. And there's a lot of responsibility with that, but I cherish that.”

The biggest thing that changes for Laurinaitis now that he’s one of Ohio State’s 10 full-time assistants is that he will now be tasked with traveling during live recruiting periods. But Laurinaitis already gained some experience doing that last month after Parker Fleming’s firing, which helped sell Day on his decision to give Laurinaitis the final spot on this year’s coaching staff.

“I’ve seen so many great things from him,” Day said last week. “Had an opportunity to see him on the road (recruiting) the last couple of weeks. Did an unbelievable job. There’s a lot of momentum, so we felt like it was the right move.”

Day was alongside Laurinaitis for his first day on the road recruiting, which Laurinaitis spent recruiting multiple linebacker targets in Florida, and Laurinaitis said he approached that as a job interview with the head coach – though he didn’t feel like he needed to be anything other than himself.

“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,” Laurinaitis said. “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.”

Recruiting players to Ohio State comes naturally to Laurinaitis, he said, because he doesn’t have to concoct a sales pitch. Having gone on to play in the NFL for eight years after his Ohio State career, Laurinaitis knows from firsthand experience the opportunities that can come from being a Buckeye, so it’s easy for him to sell players on that.

“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.”

That’s a big reason why Laurinaitis chose to get into coaching in the first place.

“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.”– New Ohio State linebackers coach James Laurinaitis

After making more than $35 million in his NFL career, Laurinaitis certainly didn’t need to get into coaching. He had already found a second career after his playing career as an analyst for Big Ten Network and a radio host for 97.1 The Fan. Laurinaitis likely would have continued to climb through the media ranks had he chosen to stay in that profession.

But Laurinaitis felt a pull to be closer to the game he’s always loved and knew he might regret it if he didn’t make the jump into coaching. Now that he’s already the linebackers coach at Ohio State, Laurinaitis knows he made the right decision and has his sights set on continuing to coach for many years to come.

“My first love has always been football,” Laurinaitis said. “That's why I got into media, I wanted to be around the game. And then once I was in media, I felt myself getting fired up whenever I did the coaches’ interviews. And I just asked myself one offseason, I'm like, I think I was getting to be 35 years old, I'm like, ‘If you don't jump into this, you might look back and really regret it.’ And so once I jumped into it, I knew it was the right thing to do. 

“I think a lot of is because I love young people, so I want to see young people get to live their dream out, like I was able to. … The coaches that I played for – Luke Fickell, Jim Tressel, Steve Spagnuolo – they were all great developers of men as well. And probably the three most impactful men in my life outside of my father. So the thought that I could hopefully be that to somebody else, I think is what gets me up every morning.”

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