Ohio State football: Former players bring unique perspective to coaching staff

COLUMBUS — Ohio State football coach Ryan Day is not a former Buckeye, but he seems to be collecting them for his staff.

With the addition of James Laurinaitis as a graduate assistant, six former Ohio State players are working for the Buckeye football team in some capacity, be it on or off the field.

Brian Hartline and Tim Walton both are full-timers working with the position they played at Ohio State.

In the case of Hartline, that is receivers while Walton is in his second season leading the cornerbacks.

Former safety C.J. Barnett, a Northmont grad, is director of player development — a key off-field position — while former receiver Devin Jordan and walk-on defensive back Owen Fankhauser are program assistants for offense and special teams, respectively

“These are guys who understand what it means to be a player here, and I think that absolutely matters,” said Day, who was a quarterback at New Hampshire. “Whether they are talking to a recruit and their family, or whether it’s a player they’ve been there before, and they understand what that means and what it means to be a Buckeye, and I know for me to have those guys, part of this thing is really important. So I think it does make a difference.”

Laurinatis, who was a three-time All-American linebacker in the mid-2000s, made no bones about the fact he hopes to follow in the footsteps of Hartline, who was part of the same recruiting class in 2005.

Since taking over as receivers coach full time in 2019, Hartline has proven to be a smash-hit on and off the field both as a developer of players and a recruiter, and he was recently promoted to offensive coordinator.

“I’d be lying to you if that wasn’t the goal,” said Laurinaitis, who spent a year as a graduate assistant at Notre Dame before being lured back to OSU. “Ohio State’s such a storied program, and such a unique place that it should be ‘Wide Receiver U’, should be LB U, DE U. You should have all that. I truly believe that.

“It’s a lofty goal, but when you’re at a place like Ohio State, you come here, and once you’ve lived it, you understand what the standards are.”

Hartline wasn’t quite the star Laurinaitis was in college, but he was a key part of multiple Big Ten championship teams before spending seven seasons in the NFL.

He said he can trace almost his entire coaching philosophy back to his playing days when Jim Tressel ran the program, Darrell Hazell was receivers coach and former Buckeyes Luke Fickell and John Peterson were part of the staff.

“It seems to me that when I communicate about the university it probably comes off a little different than just a guy that’s been hired by somebody,” Hartline said. “And it’s not a knock on Ohio State. It’s just you go across the country and that happens everywhere. How many guys are former players coaching their position at their school? I mean, it’s probably pretty few. So the conversation probably just sounds different, which resonates different with the person listening. We can definitely reach back in and talk about past experiences and talk about what it means to us.

“Maybe there’s a different passion that comes out of it.”

Ohio State having a former player on the staff is not new.

In fact, it’s been the norm for more than a century: 2017 is the only season since at least 1912 that Ohio State did not have at least one former player on the full-time, on-field staff.

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