Laurinaitis excited for ‘dream’ role


When James Laurinaitis returned to Columbus last winter after accepting a graduate assistant position on Ryan Day’s staff, he didn’t shy away from the lofty expectations he has for himself in a coaching career just beginning to get off the ground.

“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,” Laurinaitis said last February of his goals for the 2023 season. “And so I’ll attack this year with that vision.”

One year later, after being named Ohio State’s linebackers coach last week, Laurinaitis now finds himself in a position to begin staking his claim. Head coach Ryan Day announced the promotion of Laurinaitis to his first full-time coaching gig last week as the final pieces of Ohio State’s coaching staff were solidified ahead of the start of spring practice.

Laurinaitis, never one to mince words about his reverence for his alma mater and the Ohio State brand, said he never really expected the promotion but reiterated it’s why he left Notre Dame after one season to join Day’s staff.

“A lot of times, you just try to go to work and do your role, and do it to the best of your ability,” he said while speaking with the media on Tuesday. “Obviously, I was aware that the position was open and was hopeful. It’s something that I believe, a year ago when I came back, I voiced that that was my dream, to be the linebackers coach here.”

With several changes coming to Day’s staff in the months since Ohio State’s season-ending loss to Missouri in the Cotton Bowl, Laurinaitis said there was “a lot of unknown” over the past few weeks as he waited to see how the on-field staff would be completed. In the meantime, Laurinaitis continued his work, which included in-person recruiting for the first time in his career.

“I thrived on the opportunity to meet these players, their coaches, and the people who are important to them, in person,” he said. “It’s one thing to do it over the phone. It’s another thing to be able to do it in person and let them see you face-to-face, which I think is a lot more impactful. I was grateful for that opportunity and look forward to continuing to do it.”

In addition to the allure of getting to meet families in person and discuss their plans for the future, Laurinaitis was also well aware of the opportunity the recruiting trip presented for his own future.

“Coach Day was with me from day one when we went down through Florida,” Laurinaitis said. “Quite honestly, I viewed it as a job interview when I was there with him. I knew I was going to be presenting to a couple of the guys about what we offer, and thankfully, it was a couple of guys I had previous relationships with and was comfortable with. But I treated it like a job opportunity. It was something I never did before, and Coach Day is always very aware of everything going on in the program, so I took it that way and am thankful I did.”

Although he now has the official title, Laurinaitis doesn’t expect much to change, especially considering the advanced role he had a year ago in the linebacker room despite being a graduate assistant. “I certainly felt like the linebackers coach last year, and I think a lot of the guys would have said the same thing,” he said.

There are a few changes —having his own office and not having to signal plays during games, to name a couple —that Laurinaitis is glad to see. More than anything, though, he is looking forward to being able to lead in an official capacity.

“Just knowing that the title means those are your guys now and that’s your room, there’s a lot of responsibility with that, but I cherish it,” he added.

While his title may now be official, Laurinaitis won’t change anything about his approach to coaching. Instead, he’ll continue to let the very reason he got into the business —the development of young men on and off the field —guide his path.

“The coaches that I played for —Luke Fickell, Jim Tressel, and 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,” Laurinaitis said. “The thought that I could hopefully be that to somebody else is what gets me up every morning.

“I tell a lot of these recruits, ‘Yes, I want to be there in the green room with you when (NFL Commissioner) Roger Goodell calls your name.’ A lot of these kids want to be developed. But I also hope they call me when they decide to get engaged someday or get married, and they’re like, ‘Hey, Coach, I want you there,’ because that’s the kind of relationship I have with Luke Fickell, the kind of relationship I have with ‘Spags.’ It’s more than just ball, and I think that’s why I wake up and attack it every day.”

Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.

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