Skull Session: James Laurinaitis Feels “Grateful” to Be Ohio State’s LB Coach, Mike Hall is an “NFL-Caliber Pass Rusher” and Mike Conley Signs a Contract Extension

By Chase Brown on February 20, 2024 at 5:00 am
James Laurinaitis

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 “THE BEST IN THE COUNTRY.” When Ohio State promoted James Laurinaitis to linebackers coach, all of Buckeye Nation cheered. That’s what the Eleven Warriors Poll from last week would indicate, at least. 

When we asked, “Did Ryan Day make the correct decision in hiring James Laurinaitis as his 10th assistant?” 98% of over 5,000 responses answered “Yes,” while 2% responded “No.” 

Those 2% are haters. They are Michigan fans who have infiltrated the site.

Last week, Laurinaitis talked with Clay Hall of ABC6 at the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association clinic. When Hall asked him how it feels to be a member of Ohio State’s “full-time staff” (quotation marks because — let’s be honest — all coaches are full-time), Laurinaitis said he feels “grateful” to have his dream of becoming the Buckeyes’ linebackers coach now realized.

“There’s a lot of people who want to work at Ohio State,” Laurinaitis said. “I am grateful to be given the opportunity and to get to work. It was my dream to be the linebackers coach back at my alma mater. I’m going to try to take advantage of it.”

As for what Laurinatis will bring to the table — well, a lot — but, first and foremost, helping Ohio State’s current and future linebackers recognize the “standard” that Buckeye legends of the past have set for the position.

“When you come to Ohio State to play linebacker, you are expected to be the best in the world at what you do,” he said. “It was that way when I showed up. I was just a kid from Minnesota. I knew about A.J. Hawk, Bobby (Carpenter) and Anthony (Schlegel). I had no idea about all the greats that were before me, with Randy Gradishar, Tom Cousineau and even Marcus Marek, who hold our career tackles record with 570-plus, which is incredible.

“It’s about knowing who came before you and trying to uphold that standard — maybe even raise it — and get the linebacker to where it needs to be, which is the best in the country.”

That’s great work out of Laurinaitis to name Gradishar, Cousineau and Marek. However, I will deduct one point (the points don’t matter) for not mentioning Chris Spielman, Andy Katzenmoyer, himself or some of the other legendary linebackers to come through Columbus.

Indeed, Laurinaitis can help Ohio State’s current and future linebackers recognize the standard because he is the standard. A three-star from Wayzata, Minnesota, Laurinatis became a three-time All-American and Butkus Award winner at Ohio State. He went on to have a great career in the NFL, where he became the St. Louis Rams' (now Los Angeles Rams) all-time leading tackler in seven seasons with the franchise.

That brief resume (and some other qualities) are what led Ryan Day to promote him.

“He knows Ohio State. He loves Ohio State. He has credibility with the players, and he has credibility with recruits because he has done it,” Day said last week. “And not only did he do it, he did it at an unbelievable level. He did it in the NFL.”

Day later added: “There is a lot of momentum. We felt like it was the right move.”

That it was. And that it will prove to be.

 BABY AARON DONALD. Mike Hall was a force of nature at Ohio State, but will he be a force of nature in the NFL? According to Connor Rogers of NBC Sports, Hall has the potential to create that same impact — one that made him a two-time All-Big Ten honoree for the Buckeyes.

“Michael Hall Jr. didn’t fill the stat sheet this season, but his tape tells a different story,” Rogers said. “He only had 1.5 sacks in 2023 — a dropoff from 2022, where he had 4.5 sacks. Yet, his pass-rush win rate, according to Pro Football Focus, was over 18 percent while logging 29 total pressures on the season.”

In other words, don’t let Hall’s box scores fool you. He has what it takes to play at the next level. 

In Rogers’ film breakdown of the 6-foot-3, 290-pound defensive tackle, he looked at Hall’s “signature move,” the arm-over (also known as a swim move), and assessed Hall’s quickness and strength at the line of scrimmage. When all was said and done, the NBC Sports analyst had high praise for the former Buckeye.

“A consistent theme on tape for Hall is to wreck the pocket, force the quarterback to escape, and it leads to a stat-sheet opportunity for another member of the defense he played for,” Rogers said. Don’t let the numbers trick you — this is an NFL-caliber pass rusher.”

 MONEY, MONEY, MONEY, MONEY... MONEY. Former Ohio State point guard Mike Conley agreed to a two-year, $21 million contract extension with the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday. The 36-year-old veteran has been crucial to his team’s success this season, helping the T’Wolves to a Western Conference-best 39-16 record with an average of 10.6 points, 6.4 assists, 2.9 rebounds and one steal per game.

Credit for what I am about to write goes to Ben Koo of Awful Announcing, who asked his X followers if Conley is the highest-paid Ohio State athlete ever.

In short, he might be.

To look at the career earnings of each former Buckeye and rank them is a tall task, and it is something the Eleven Warriors staff plans to write about during the football team’s offseason. For now, however, I can share that Conley has earned over $274 million across his 17 seasons in the NBA. The additional $21 million over the next two years will put him at $295 million in career earnings. 

That has to be a record. It has to be.

But as is the old adage, records are meant to be broken. 

In three years, I guarantee Coleridge Bernard Stroud IV will receive a contract that is worth Conley’s career earnings and then some. Still, it’s neat that Conley is unofficially the highest-paid Ohio State athlete ever… for now.

Conley’s one season at Ohio State was magical. He averaged 11.3 points, 6.1 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game for a team that finished national runner-up to the Florida Gators (who had Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Taureen Green, Corey Brewer, Chris Richard and Mo Speights… Is that good?). Conley then became the No. 4 overall pick of the Memphis Grizzlies in the 2007 NBA draft, and the money came pouring in. Seventeen years later, it hasn’t stopped.

 WHAT A COINCIDENCE. Ohio State’s win over Purdue was memorable. So was Bruce Thornton’s performance in said win. According to the Big Ten Network, Thornton is the first Ohio State guard to reach 22 points vs. a top-two opponent since Michael Redd scored 22 against No. 2 Kansas in 1997.

Interestingly enough, Thornton’s performance came with Redd in attendance. 

Ohio State’s 1998-99 team, which won [REDACTED] games and reached the [REDACTED] of the 1999 NCAA Tournament thanks to Redd’s stellar efforts, was honored during one of the timeouts of Ohio State-Purdue. But remember: They weren’t honored for their actual achievements on the court; they were honored for finishing as the No. 4 team in the 1999 USA TODAY Coaches Poll.

Even with the NCAA’s maligned intervention that kept Ohio State from recognizing the team’s 27-9 record and its incredible run to the Final Four, it was awesome to see that 1998-99 team soak in appreciation from the 18,353 fans at Value City Arena on Sunday.

That recognition was looooooooong overdue.

 SONG OF THE DAY. “Money, Money, Money” - Abba.

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