On Friday it was revealed that former Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis would be returning to Columbus to join the football coaching staff as a graduate assistant coach. Naturally, Laurinaitis is slated to work with the team’s linebackers. The move comes less than a year after the legendary Buckeye linebacker joined the coaching staff of Marcus Freeman, another former Ohio State linebacker, at Notre Dame as a graduate assistant.
The only surprise about Laurinaitis joining the Ohio State coaching staff was that the move didn’t come sooner. Following the end of his NFL playing career, Laurinaitis co-hosted a morning show on 97.1 The Fan in Columbus with Beau Bishop, and it was obvious to those that listened to the show that the linebacker still had a passion for the game, as well as an interesting in breaking into the coaching ranks.
Now Laurinaitis joins another former Buckeye on the coaching staff, as wide receiver Brian Hartline has been crushing it as wide receivers coach since he replaced Zach Smith prior to the 2018 season. Since taking over for Smith, Hartline has not only brought in some of the top talent in the country at wide receiver on the recruiting trail, but he has also helped those talents add to their skill set. In the 2022 NFL Draft, Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave were taken with the 10th and 11th picks in the first round, while former Ohio State receiver Jameson Williams was taken right after Olave.
If head coach Ryan Day was smart, he would continue to add former Buckeyes to his coaching staff. Not only will Laurinaitis help to mold the linebacking corps, but he knows exactly what it takes to beat Michigan, which is an area that Ryan Day has failed at recently. The more Ohio State alums that fill out the coaching staff, the better odds the Buckeyes have at beating That Team Up North.
With Hartline earning a promotion to offensive coordinator this offseason to go along with his role as wide receivers coach, as well as Laurinaitis getting his feet wet as a graduate assistant with a focus on the linebackers, there are two positions on the staff that have former Buckeyes in place. Even though Laurinaitis isn’t technically the linebackers coach, which is a position that defensive coordinator Jim Knowles holds, for this exercise we’re just going to slot Laurinaitis in that position.
Here are some other fun former Buckeyes who could fill out some of the assistant positions on the coaching staff.
Quarterbacks coach: J.T. Barrett
Barrett coming back to Columbus as the quarterbacks' coach feels like it would be a no-brainer. While Barrett didn’t see coaching in his future as his Ohio State career came to a close, the quarterback joined the coaching staff of the Detroit Lions as an offensive assistant over the summer.
Say what you want about what has happened with Urban Meyer in his last few seasons of coaching, but he is a good evaluator of coaching talent. Meyer saw coaching in Barrett’s future even when Barrett didn’t. Even though Barrett didn’t find success in the NFL, he holds a ton of records at Ohio State and has a firm grasp on what is expected from quarterbacks these days.
Running backs coach: Maurice Clarett
There isn’t a better candidate for running backs coach than Maurice Clarett. The Youngstown product burst onto the scene and gave a jolt to an Ohio State offense as a freshman. Clarett and his teammates went on to shock the world and beat Miami in the BCS National Championship Game at the end of the 2002 season.
We have seen how Clarett’s story played out following his freshman season. While most people wouldn’t have been able to recover from what Clarett went through, he was able to survive and become a better man. Now Clarett finds joy in helping to make sure kids don’t make the same mistakes that he did. With NIL changing the college football landscape, there’s nobody better to guide student-athletes, educating them on not getting caught up in the temptations that come along with being a star athlete.
Oh yeah, Clarett was also outstanding to watch on the field. Players with his power, toughness, agility, and speed don’t come along too often, and it’s even rarer to see them all put together as we saw from him. The combination of football lessons and life lessons that he could teach makes him a very intriguing option to coach running backs.
Tight ends coach: Jake Stoneburner
It wasn’t easy to come up with an option for a tight ends coach, since Ohio State doesn’t use their tight ends all that much. While I considered Ricky Dudley here, I ended up going with Jake Stoneburner just because he isn’t as far removed from the game. Plus, Stoneburner has experience in Urban Meyer’s system, which Ryan Day still uses elements from. With Dudley, I feel like there might be more of a learning curve just because the game has changed so much since he played in the scarlet and gray.
Offensive line coach: Orlando Pace
If there was anyone that could demand respect from the moment he joined the coaching staff, it would be Orlando Pace. “The Pancake Man” has done just about everything you could do on the football field. While at Ohio State, Pace was a Heisman Trophy finalist, which was pretty much unheard of for an offensive lineman. Pace is a Super Bowl champion, as well as a member of both the Pro and College Football Hall of Fame.
Not only has Pace probably forgotten more about playing offensive line than others will ever know, it feels like there would be no chance that Ohio State would ever miss out on an offensive line recruit if Pace was the position coach. Even though he has trimmed down from his playing weight since retirement, Pace still is an imposing figure that I wouldn’t want to say no to if he wanted me to play on the Buckeye offensive line.
Defensive line coach: Cameron Heyward
There are so many great options when it comes to former Ohio State defensive linemen. Even though Joey and Nick Bosa, Chase Young, and Sam Hubbard all would be great options to join the coaching staff, they all have a lot of time left in their NFL careers. Cameron Heyward is still an active player in the NFL, but he just finished up his 12th year in the league. Even though he won’t admit it, retirement is coming sooner rather than later for Heyward.
In a sport that is so physical, Heyward has been the model of consistency at defensive end. There has been only one season in the NFL where Heyward failed to play at least 15 games in a season. The defensive end has seen everything on the football field that you can possibly imagine and would be able to teach young defensive linemen so much to try and set them up for a future on the field after they leave Ohio State.
Cornerbacks coach: Antoine Winfield
It’s impossible to list the best defensive backs in Ohio State history without mentioning Antoine Winfield. While Winfield’s numbers in college or the NFL aren’t going to blow you away, he had tremendous all-around skills. Not only could Winfield defend the pass, but he was also a great tackler. It is obvious Winfield knew what he was doing or else he wouldn’t have played in 191 games in the NFL.
Winfield is just what the Ohio State cornerbacks would need, especially with how much they have struggled over the last few years. The former Buckeye was never a big talker, instead preferring to let his play on the field speak for itself. Plus, Winfield knows a little bit about setting up younger defensive backs for success, since his son has become a fixture in the secondary of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Safeties coach: Mike Doss
Aside from Jack Tatum, it’s impossible to argue there was ever a better safety at Ohio State than Mike Doss. A three-time First-team All-American member, as well three-time First-team All-Big Ten honoree. Doss was the MVP of the Fiesta Bowl win over Miami. Had it not been for Doss, at some point the Buckeye defense probably falters during the season and they don’t even have a chance to beat the Hurricanes.
Since the end of his playing career, Doss has had plenty of experience working with youths, trying to give them the skills to succeed. I’m just surprised that Doss hasn’t found a career in coaching yet. It feels like it would be impossible for Doss to turn down a position on the coaching staff if his alma mater came calling.
Special teams coach: Mike Nugent
Even though Ohio State has had some great kickers over the years, none of them will ever compare to Mike Nugent. The kicker from Centerville was so good he ended up being a second-round pick in the NFL Draft, which is very rare for a kicker. Nugent even spent a good portion of his NFL career kicking down I-71 for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Not saying that Noah Ruggles makes the kick in the Peach Bowl to send Ohio State to the College Football Playoff Championship Game, but he might have a little more confidence in making such a tough kick if Nugent was the special teams' coach. Nobody hit more clutch kicks in the scarlet and gray than Nugent, and it would be great to see him pass on his knowledge to the special teams unit.