Former Ohio State LB James Laurinaitis jumps into coaching with Notre Dame football

Colin Gay
The Columbus Dispatch

James Laurinaitis had been to South Bend, Indiana, only once before joining Notre Dame’s defensive coaching staff this year. But it still left an effect on him.  

“I worked out here actually as a junior in high school, so it’s not my first time out to South Bend," he said. "But it’s great once you are around the people and the tradition and you get to see campus and how beautiful it is."

Laurinaitis wasn't waiting for Notre Dame. He was just looking for an opportunity to return to the field. And Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman, his former college teammate at Ohio State, gave him that chance, asking him to join the coaching staff as a graduate assistant for its defense. 

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Laurinaitis was a three-time All-American at Ohio State, winning the Nagurski Award given to the top defensive player nationally and the Butkus Award for best linebacker. He played eight seasons in the NFL.

And after retiring from the NFL in 2016, Laurinaitis knew he had to take a breath and see if he was interested in anything else off the football field, including a daily radio show in Columbus. 

Instead, he found he missed it. 

Former Ohio State star James Laurinaitis is helping coach the linebackers at Notre Dame. The Irish will face the Buckeyes on Sept. 3.

“You realize I miss just being around the locker room, You miss ball,” Laurinaitis said. “So you are looking for the right situation.” 

Laurinaitis said he’s been talking with Freeman about coaching since Freeman was the defensive coordinator at Cincinnati under Luke Fickell, but that the timing never worked. Now, Laurinaitis is thankful for the opportunity he’s been given. 

“He said, ‘Hey man, I don’t know what we will have,’ " Laurinaitis sad. "I said ‘I don’t care what we have. I just want to be there and get my foot in.’ To be able to have the chance with someone you go way back with, I mean we’re talking about freshman year of college. The reason why I had a chance to be a backup my freshman year was because Marcus got hurt Game 1 against Miami Ohio. His character was helping me learn the playbook as a freshman.”

James Laurinaitis starts to develop coaching style at Notre Dame

Laurinaitis has jumped right in, helping defensive coordinator Al Golden coach linebackers, even playing the part of the running back in drills on the practice field if he has to. 

“A lot of experience. Really, really smart. He’s going to be a great coach,” Golden said of Laurinaitis. “Enthusiasm. He can play it from the mind’s eye. He’s got great insight and perspective from how to see the game from playing linebacker. He’s just great with the kids. He’s awesome, we’re blessed to have him.” 

Laurinaitis said he aims to be consistent and honest, developing trust and pushing players to be their best. 

It’s something he has already begun to see.

“We have a really smart group,” Laurinaitis said. “It helps when you are jumping into it, and you are learning as well, kind of, what are we going to do as a scheme and and as a unit and all those things. Because, look, I wasn’t here last year. There’s a lot of ways to play some of these coverages and different schemes we’ve been in. They are so easy to take it from (the) meeting here in the afternoon, and, at night, they are great on the grass.” 

James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman as teammates at Ohio State in 2007.

Golden already sees him as a “partner” in the linebackers room, bringing in positive energy to the room. 

With Laurinaitis' first game as a graduate assistant be in Ohio Stadium on Sept. 3, he said he just wants to do anything he can to help his position group and his defense get better. 

“I love young people and I love the game of football,” Laurinaitis said. “Honestly, I’m just here to help these guys achieve their dreams, and that’s playing an extremely high level of college football and for some of them, a long time in the NFL. But it’s just helping them get better.”

cgay@dispatch.com 

@_ColinGay

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