Laurinaitis ‘giddy’ for return home


Just over a year into his young coaching career, former Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis is still very much finding his way in a relatively unfamiliar world. Now, he will be able to continue that journey in the friendly and familiar confines of a place that can best be described as home.

Laurinaitis was announced as a graduate assistant addition to head coach Ryan Day’s coaching staff at Ohio State a little over a week ago after spending the 2022 season in the same capacity under former college teammate and current Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman.

After starring as an All-American linebacker at Ohio State from 2005-08, Laurinaitis went on to play eight seasons in the NFL before retiring and transitioning into sports media. But as is the case with so many former players, Laurinaitis missed being around the locker room and the game in general, which led him to begin looking for an opportunity to break into the coaching profession.

That opportunity presented itself when Freeman, with whom Laurinaitis has remained close following their playing days, was tabbed to replace outgoing head coach Brian Kelly at Notre Dame ahead of last season. During a media session last Wednesday, his first since returning to Columbus, Laurinaitis expressed thanks for Freeman’s trust in him as a first-time coach, but also detailed the undeniable draw of going back to Ohio State.

“It’s my alma mater, obviously, and I love the game of football,” Laurinaitis said. “I love working with young people, so that’s why I got into coaching. You want to impact the kids on the field, but more importantly, you want them to leave, after building relationships with them, as better men and hopefully give them an example of what being a good husband and father can be. It’s the same thing that Luke Fickell and Jim Tressel did for me.

“And so you pair all of that with your alma mater, you pair that with Columbus, Ohio, and when it became something that could happen, I asked my wife and our girls, and it was pure giddiness at that point that we could be coming back home. It was a great opportunity, and I’m thankful to coach (Ryan) Day for providing it.”

As the opportunity began to materialize for Laurinaitis, and he weighed the possibility, he said that among the deciding factors in accepting the position was the level to which he’d be able to coach the Ohio State linebackers alongside current linebackers coach and defensive coordinator Jim Knowles.

“I just wanted to know how much flexibility I would have to help with the linebackers,” Laurinaitis said. “Obviously, Coach Knowles, from everything I’ve heard, is a fantastic and brilliant mind. So I wanted to be able to have an influence on the room, and obviously, working under coach Knowles will be a big part of that. I had a lot of responsibility in South Bend with the linebacker room, and I look forward to earning everyone’s trust here in the building and learning his scheme and how he wants to go about things.”

Later asked about his long-term goals as a coach, Laurinaitis didn’t mince words about the expectations he’s placed on himself for the upcoming year and beyond.

“For me, it all starts with can I be the best linebacker coach in the country? And can I aspire to do that at my alma mater? I think that kind of is the first thing that comes to mind,” he said. “And so I’ll attack this year with that vision.”

Also meeting with the media last Wednesday, Knowles highlighted the draw of adding such a recognizable name to the staff, as well as how he envisions Laurinaitis fitting into the plan for Ohio State’s linebacker group.

“It’s always exciting when you have a guy come in and coach with you who also has his picture on your wall (at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center),” Knowles said. “I’ve seen the guy every day for a year, so now to meet him in person, he’s a legend, All-American, a pro, and a Buckeye.”

Knowles added, “Having a veteran core of linebackers coming back, I think it’s good to have someone come in who can work with them individually technique-wise and maybe do some different things than I’ve done. So I’m interested to see what he brings in terms of technique — less on the system and more on how he played the position and the things that he believes in.”

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