James Laurinaitis Ohio State Buckeyes Linebackers Coach

James Laurinaitis Living A Dream As Linebackers Coach At Ohio State

When most of your life has been guided by football, it can create quite the void when the playing days are done. That was the situation that James Laurinaitis found himself in after realizing that his body could no longer do everything required of an NFL middle linebacker.

Laurinaitis spent seven years with the St. Louis Rams from 2009-2015, though his last season was an injury-riddled year with the New Orleans Saints in 2016. He left St. Louis as the Rams’ all-time leading tackler (854), never missing a game or a start.

This, of course, followed his four years at Ohio State where he was a three-year starter (2006-2008) at middle linebacker and one of just a small handful of three-time All-Americans in OSU history.

Following his playing days, Laurinaitis still wanted to be around the game so he got into radio and television. It scratched the itch…for a bit.

“Once I was in media, I felt myself getting fired up whenever I did the coach’s interviews,” Laurinaitis said on Tuesday. “And I just asked myself one offseason, I’m like, I think I was getting to be 35 years old, I’m like, ‘If you don’t jump into this, you might look back and really regret it.’ And so once I jumped into it, I knew it was the right thing to do.”

Laurinaitis’ first coaching job came in 2022 with his former linebacker teammate Marcus Freeman as a graduate assistant at Notre Dame. That lasted for one year and then he moved on to Ohio State for the same position with the Buckeyes.

Last week, Laurinaitis was elevated to the linebackers coach at Ohio State, making him one of head coach Ryan Day’s 10 full-time assistant coaches.

Coaching wasn’t something he set out to do when he was done playing, but he quickly found it to his liking.

“I think a lot of is because I love young people, so I want to see young people live their dream out like I was able to,” he said. “And when you come to a place like Ohio State, whether you’re blessed to play for five years here, and that’s it, whether you’re blessed to play 10 years in the league, like this town, and this fan base, if you treat it right will take care of you for life. And it becomes your family. And so I think as I dealt in media and then I jumped into coaching, I was like, ‘This is obvious. This is obvious. You love the game of football, you love young people.'”

As a linebacker, James Laurinaitis’ job was to impact ball carriers. As a coach, he is still very much motivated by impacting others, but in a much different way.

“I felt the coaches that I played for — Luke Fickell, Jim Tressel, 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, so the fact that I could hopefully be that to somebody else, I think is what gets me up every morning,” he said.

“I tell a lot of these recruits like, yes, I want to be there with you in the green room when [Roger] Goodell calls your name, right? A lot of these kids want to get developed, but I also hope that these men call me when they decide to get engaged someday or get married and are like, ‘Hey, Coach, I want you there.’ Because that’s the kind of relationship that I had with Luke Fickell. That’s the kind of relationship I had with Spags, is that it was more than just ball. And so I think that’s why I wake up and attack it every day.”

The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

When James Laurinaitis was brought to Ohio State last year as a graduate assistant, the expectation from the outside was that he would eventually become the Buckeyes’ linebacker coach.

Following the 2023 season, Ryan Day let go three of his assistant coaches and quickly replaced two of them. Because the Buckeyes didn’t have 10 full-time assistant coaches, Laurinaitis was able to go out on the road and recruit. That’s something he was not permitted to do previously because of the NCAA’s limitations on which assistants can be on the road.

So, without knowing exactly what his future held, Laurinaitis went out on the road to convince high school stars that they should choose Ohio State, all the while hoping that Ohio State would choose him.

He tried to limit his expectations, but his desire for the job wasn’t a secret.

“I don’t think you ever expect. I think a lot of times you just, you try to go to work and do your role and do it to the best of your ability,” he said. “And 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 kind of voiced that was my dream was to be linebackers coach here. And so there was kind of a lot of unknown going through those few weeks and going on the road recruiting for the first time and all of that actually in person and doing that stuff. But I felt pretty confident that I’d done the best job I could have to prepare myself for the opportunity and I’m just grateful that that Coach Day believed in me.”

Laurinaitis viewed his time out on the road recruiting with Day as a job interview. A large part of being a college coach is being to recruit. All the reviews in that area have been great to this point, especially since it comes down to preparation and communication, which isn’t new to a former middle linebacker.

It seems odd to say of somebody who is going into just their third year that they waited patiently to become Ohio State’s linebackers coach, but time can move slowly when the pages in the next chapter of your life are being turned.

And now that he’s here, James Laurinaitis is just as appreciative as he was nearly 20 years ago when he committed to Ohio State as “a three-star from Minnesota.”

“If you would have said two years ago that, hey, within two years, you’d be the linebacker coach at Ohio State, I’d probably say it was a long shot,” he said. “Not from a credibility standpoint. I think more so from the dominoes that would have needed to fall to kind of make it happen. So, just grateful that those dominoes fell and that I’m here and I’ve been given the opportunity.”

Go to discussion...