Ohio State football assistant coach interview James Laurinaitis

New Buckeye Assistants James Laurinaitis, Matt Guerrieri Discuss OSU Defense, Goals For 2024

COLUMBUS — Two of Ohio State’s newest full-time assistant football coaches met with reporters for the first time as new linebackers coach James Laurinaitis and new safeties coach Matt Guerrieri answered questions about their roles, their personnel, and much more.

Neither coach is entirely new to OSU, as Laurinaitis was a three-time All-American as a linebacker in his time as a Buckeye (2005-2008), and Guerrieri came to Ohio State in 2022 with new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles. Guerrieri was an analyst, but left last year to be Indiana’s co-defensive coordinator.

Both coaches talked about the processes of getting to this point, what it means for them, what their personnel looks like, the potential of this 2024 Ohio State defense, and much more.

The highlights of everything that was said can be found below.

James Laurinaitis

  • He was hopeful this job would come available for him. That was his hope when he came here last year but there were a lot of unknowns the past few weeks while he was out on the road recruiting.
  • “Just grateful that Coach Day believed in me.”
  • He viewed the few weeks out on the road recruiting with Ryan Day as a job interview.
  • He viewed himself as the linebackers coach last year, so that part hasn’t changed, but it is nice to have an office now. The title brings responsibility and ownership, which he cherishes.
  • As a coach, being in the same scheme two years in a row will allow him to teach it better. Last year was a learning experience, not just the scheme but also how he wanted it to be coached. Now he can dive deeper because he knows it all.
  • There are a lot of LBs who will be fighting for playing time this year. Cody Simon is the only guy with starts under his belt.
  • When he came back last year, he wanted to work for everything. Sometimes former players will return and they expect things to be handed to them. He didn’t want that to be the case with him. As the season went on, he felt more comfortable speaking up. But now with the title that he has, “you’ve got to speak up when you see things a certain way.” “A lot of times last year I think I agreed with what we were doing.” Obviously there was a lot of success on defense a year ago.
  • Players appreciate the fact that Laurinaitis has played before and he knows what is possible and what isn’t at the position.
  • Sonny Styles “has such a rare skill set.” He played the overhang, so the offense didn’t really know what he was. Was he safety? Was he an old-school Sam? “He’s just a weapon.” They need to evaluate that this spring to decide what is best for the defense and what is best for his future.
  • Consistency breeds confidence, so the young guys need to do it day in and day out. The vision for the LB room is to come out of spring with at least four guys that can play. Last year they only had three guys who earned the right to play. “We’re gonna have to rotate if we have the ability to” because of the length of the season they are expecting. It would be nice of the LB room reflects the talent and rotation on hand of the WR room.
  • He’s excited about not signaling the plays this year. It’s stressful, especially with everything that went on with the stolen signals last year. Not having to do that this year will allow him to do more evaluation of play. Last year he didn’t have time to digest what happened on the play because he was the guy who was signaling in the play, so he had to be ready to hear the play. He would love to have the in-helmet communication this year for all of the players.
  • The young guys need to have an opportunity this spring to make mistakes because that’s a great way to grow. Cody Simon doesn’t need much work this spring but others do.
  • “I think every coach on our defensive staff would lobby for Sonny to come to their room. He just has that versatility and that skill set.”
  • Sonny Styles “would excel as a linebacker.”
  • “CJ [Hicks] has all the potential in the world. He does. I think sometimes he’s just got to cut it loose and go play.” Expecting a big spring from Hicks. He has attacked the workouts. He just needs some consistency. Some guys thrive in competing for a spot that is open. He has so many traits physically that you love at linebacker.
  • Gabe Powers got significantly better from last spring through the fall. You noticed him making more and more plays to the point that it became routine and it looked like the light had gone on for him.
  • The spring is going to be an opportunity for a number of guys to see if they can play next to Cody Simon this year.
  • The Jack is definitely part of the defense still. They haven’t gotten to those conversations yet but it is unique and would be a beneficial addition to the defense. But you always weigh how much you have in the system versus how much you need versus what do you do really well.
  • There is a difference in being a linebackers coach and the guy who coaches the linebackers, like he was last year. It was used against him in recruiting last year. Schools would tell recruits that he wasn’t going to be there to coach them because he was going to leave. Now that can’t be used against him. He can sell the school very well because he’s living proof of what it did for him.
  • “There’s a reason why I’m here. Because I love this place. I want to raise my girls around this place because of how special it is and how it changed my life, and I know it can change all of these other young mens’ lives.”
  • He was very comfortable and not nervous about his recruiting presentations in the homes or schools this past month, even though he’d never done it before. He was very prepared. Much of it “is just talking ball.” “My wife always says I have no problem talking.” If you enjoy talking to people, recruiting and building relationships is easy.
  • Since fourth grade, his life had been mapped out by football. When he decided to retire, it took him eight months to realize he wanted to be involved in the game again. That started with television and radio, but then he would get fired up whenever he’d get to do coach interviews. Then he decided one afternoon that if he didn’t jump into coaching, he was going to regret it. Then he did it and realized that’s what he needed to do.
  • “This town and this fan base, if you treat it right, will take care of you for life. And it becomes your family.”
  • He was hopeful that he would get the job but there are just so many moving puzzle pieces. “I’m just grateful that those dominos fell and that I’m here and have been given the opportunity.”
  • Brian Hartline talked to him when he was at Notre Dame to see if he’d be interested in coming to Ohio State. Hartline is a great example to follow. He is consistently recruiting the best players in the country to come join the best players in the country. “That takes a certain mindset that he’s developed.” But he’s recruiting the right kind of kids as well.

Matt Guerrieri

  • Great to be back with Jim Knowles, which puts him one step ahead as an assistant coach relationship with a coordinator.
  • It was great to get Caleb Downs. That was a whirlwind.
  • It’s good to already know guys and their families. It helps with getting to know the players even better.
  • Lathan Ransom is doing great. He’s the heartbeat of that room.
  • Jim Knowles is family. He was a D-II coach back in the day and Knowles was the coordinator at Duke when they met. “It’s about real relationships.”
  • The experience at Indiana allowed him to see the Big Ten from a different lens. Great to learn from Tom Allen and be able to call plays in the Big Ten.
  • Sonny Styles’ position is still being evaluated. He is a dynamic playmaker. He is a unique combination of running, coverage, mentality, and size. They are going to take a look at a number of different things for him.
  • The depth at safety is good. Malik Hartford started games last year as a true freshman. They will continue to build that depth. Excited about the playmaking ability of a number of guys at safety.
  • When you look at safeties, you look at how quickly they react mentally and physically. Caleb Downs does both of those tremendously. The most important thing for a young player getting on the field is the mental aspect of the game.
  • Jim Knowles is the best defensive coordinator in the nation because he can adapt. Offenses don’t catch up with it because he’s always studying the next move. He can teach it well also.
  • There is no limit for this defense. Everything you could want as an assistant coach is here. Same thing goes for the players. Everything you could want at a university is here.
  • Lathan Ransom will be good to go for spring camp.
  • Guerrieri will be involved in special teams in some form or fashion. He’s done that before at every stop. He’s very hands-on. The best players should be impact guys on special teams.
  • His relationship with Tim Walton is great. He’s played at the highest levels and coached it. He’s the best secondary coach in the nation. He recruits and develops. He checks every single box.
  • It’s a big difference for a defense when you’re in year two or three and guys are watching themselves on film instead of Oklahoma State players from Jim Knowles’ time in Stillwater.
  • What was it like recruiting Caleb Downs? You know what the stakes are, so you pack your bags and get after it. “You come here and you go.” When you get the orders, it’s your job to get it done.
  • Very familiar with James Laurinaitis as a player, been great to get to know him as a person and a coach.
  • It is great recruiting at Ohio State because you have access to every player in America. Every place has its challenge, but when you have access to so many players, you better land the right ones. Development is still key, but the players when they walk in are better than most other places.
  • The chemistry with the defensive coaches is really close. They talked about that last week about how they are all on the same wavelength. “Guys can speak freely in there” because they all know the system. You can bring up different ideas and share and challenge each other.
  • Where can this secondary get better this year? “I would say playing as one.” The expectation is to be the best in American again, just like last year, but you can always play as one more efficiently.
  • Where do you feel like you excel as a recruiter? It starts with relationships. It’s a wholesale approach. Showing the player where they are right now and where Ohio State can get them. It’s about putting the time in.
  • What did he learn about himself in his time away from Ohio State? You’re forced to adapt. You don’t know anybody so you have to grow and adapt.
  • You see the talent on the field of Caleb Downs, then it’s having him articulate what he’s looking at and his job responsibility. Then they take that and show him how that relates to the OSU defensive system. He has put in a lot of time in the building so that he can perform well in the spring.

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