Matt Guerrieri Excited to Be Reunited with Jim Knowles, Expects Seamless Transition to Ohio State with Experience Coaching in Scheme

By Andy Anders on February 20, 2024 at 4:30 pm
Matt Guerrieri

Going from co-defensive coordinator at Indiana to safeties coach at Ohio State might seem like, at best, a lateral move to some. To Matt Guerrieri, it was a no-brainer.

“This is the best place in the country,” Guerrieri said. “You get a chance to be at Ohio State. I’m from Cleveland, Ohio, this is home to me. Working for the best coordinator in the country, Jim Knowles, working for the best head coach in the country, Ryan Day. This place is everything that you ever dreamt of. So to be able to be here and work with the young men on the daily, this is a special opportunity.”

Given the timing of Guerrieri’s hiring on Jan. 10, just two days after the team fired former safeties coach Perry Eliano, it seems that Guerrieri was a no-brainer from the Buckeyes’ perspective as well. His seven previous seasons working under Knowles, recruiting chops and coordinator experience are attributes that Ohio State hopes mesh easily with its program.

“Matt brings a diverse background in terms of, he’s been a coordinator,” Day said earlier this month. “He’s a great teacher. He also has been here before, so the guys, Lathan (Ransom) and some of the older guys knew who Matt was, so it’s not just a brand new addition to the staff. I think he’s gonna work really well with Tim (Walton) back there. He knows Jim’s system very well, and so that’s gonna be seamless.”

“This is the best place in the country.”– Matt Guerrieri on why he returned to Ohio State

Knowles and Guerrieri’s relationship spans back more than a decade.

The duo met at a camp during the summer of 2012, which led to Guerrieri’s first FBS coaching job as a graduate assistant under Knowles and head coach David Cutcliffe at Duke. He spent three seasons in that position before earning a promotion to safeties coach under Knowles from 2015 through 2017.

Not only does Guerrieri have prior experience coaching safeties in the Knowles scheme, but he also has prior experience calling it himself. After Knowles left Duke to take a job as Oklahoma State’s defensive coordinator in 2018, Guerrieri ran the Blue Devils’ defense alongside Ben Albert. They were co-defensive coordinators for four years.

“It’s family,” Guerrieri said. “Knowing Jim from the time I was a little D-II coach back in the day when I first started coaching, Jim was a defensive coordinator at Duke and to be able to start that relationship, then to be able to coach safeties and take over his defense and calling it in that system – it’s about real relationships in any business and to be able to have a close one with him has definitely been awesome.”

Yes, Duke had one of the worst defenses in college football in Guerrieri’s final year there in 2021, ranking last in the country by allowing 518.4 yards per game and fourth-to-last by giving up 39.8 points per contest. But he’s not running the scheme for Ohio State, he’s teaching and implementing it. From that perspective, it’s good to know what does and doesn’t work.

“It’s efficiency first, to be able to be on the same page (with Knowles),” Guerrieri said. “Then I think also knowing where it came from helps, too. If you know the history of something, then you can tweak the end product in a way that, ‘Hey, we’ve done this before.’ ‘Ah, we dabbled with that, it didn’t really work.’ That type of stuff. So I think to be able to have that history and experience with him will go a long way.”

Before his year at Indiana in 2022, Guerrieri rejoined Knowles in his first year at Ohio State in 2021 as a senior advisor/analyst.

“I’ve been one of his DB guys all along and I think my job was to help get guys up to speed with what the defense was and what the system was,” Guerrieri said. “Then to be able to tailor that to Ohio State’s version of that.”

That year of working within Day’s program made the switch back fairly smooth. Nine days after Guerrieri’s return, Ohio State added 247Sports’ No. 1 player in the transfer portal, Caleb Downs, to his safeties room.

“The transition back was unique,” Guerrieri said. “Not a lot of times in college football do you go back to a place that you were, so you can have the same realtor, your wife living in the same area, that kind of stuff is awesome. To be able to get Caleb here was fantastic. You hit the ground running. Wednesday night I got here, had a team meeting, Thursday morning hit the road recruiting. So it’s been a fast pace, but that’s how it should be.”

“You hit the ground running. Wednesday night I got here, had a team meeting, Thursday morning hit the road recruiting. So it’s been a fast pace, but that’s how it should be.”– Matt Guerrieri on transitioning back to Ohio State

With the promotion of James Laurinaitis to be its full-time linebackers coach, Ohio State won’t be employing a full-time special teams coordinator this year barring any unforeseen staff changes. Guerrieri, who has had a hand in other schools’ special teams previously, could foot some of that responsibility.

“I’ll be involved in that,” Guerrieri said. “I think that will be a work in progress as we go. But yeah, we’ve had preliminary conversations from that standpoint.”

Still, it’s Guerrieri’s acumen as a recruiter that Day and Knowles are placing a great deal of faith in while they make a position coach pivot despite having the No. 1 passing defense in college football last season. 

“It starts with relationships, real, authentic relationships,” Guerrieri said. “I think there’s a lot of flash and different things that happen from a recruiting standpoint, but it’s about building raw, authentic relationships. Your job as a coach, the old stagecoach, is you took someone from where they were to a desired destination. It starts in the recruiting process ... to take that young man who is a freshman or sophomore in high school and be able to, over time, get them to where they want to able to be, and in turn, Ohio State gets to where they want to be able to be.”

Guerrieri, already heavily involved on the recruiting trail, will get to work implementing the next levels of Knowles’ scheme when Ohio State starts spring practice on March 5.

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