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Title: Mattison's Mission
Byline: Letter from the Editor by Sam Webb
The Michigan football program's recent defensive decline culminated in a record setting 2010 performance that most fans would love to forget: 110th in total defense, 112th in passing defense, the most yards allowed in program history, and the most points allowed in program history. Resurrecting this once proud unit is the herculean task of new defensive coordinator, Greg Mattison. Fresh off of a successful run as the Baltimore Ravens defensive guru, he steps into arguably the most challenging job of his coaching career. Even so, in a very short time he has inspired confidence in a much maligned group of players… confidence that they likely didn't think was possible after their poor showing last season. Part of that is due to Mattison's impressive track record, but just as important has been his ability to connect with his guys. It's a trait that he developed as a very young coach.
"The first coaching job I ever had, I was the head coach at 22 years old," Mattison recalled. "It was in Riverdale, Wisconsin and they had 23 kids out for football and had won three games in eight years. We were very successful and then I went to Lacrosse Logan, we won the state, and we were very successful then. Then I went on to college coaching and I had a number of opportunities (to be a head coach), but my wife would always say to me, ‘don't do that! You are too good with the kids.' I really listened to her on that because the one thing about head coaching that is hard is that you have to wear so many hats. I've always taken great pride in relationships with players and making sure that they knew that what I was doing was for them. My whole goal was to (get them to) be the best they could be. As a head coach sometimes you can't do that, and that's why I stayed the route I did."
That path led Mattison back to Ann Arbor for his second stint as defensive coordinator for a rebuilding effort of seemingly epic proportions. But rather than focusing on the magnitude of the job by looking back, the Wolverines new defensive chief has an unwavering focus straight ahead.
"I never will talk about the staff before," said Mattison. "I think they were great coaches. You wouldn't have been at Michigan unless you were a great football coach. Sometimes things just don't go right. I don't want to put anything on what happened before because it doesn't matter. I know what we are going to do. I also know how hard we are going to work at doing that, and that's all that really matters."
"We will definitely be a four down front team," he continued. "We will be a very aggressive defense. We'll work extremely hard. Our biggest thing will be stopping the run. Any place I've ever been, your defense starts with not allowing people to run the football. That's going to be a big thing for us. You can't allow teams to get big plays. I've always had the philosophy that an offense, if it has to go 80 yards, there are a lot of mistakes that can happen in those 80 yards. Any defense that I've been associated with, if you give up big plays it breaks the will down of your team. Not just the defense, but the offense too. On the other hand, if you are stopping people… stopping them from running… it allows you then to pressure. Now you know there is a possibility that they are throwing, and now you can possibly pressure like you want to pressure to get to the quarterback."
The foundation for getting to that point will be built on fundamentals. That's a belief that Mattison shares with his good friend and new boss Brady Hoke. And also like Hoke, he intensely values the input of those around him. In other words, Greg Mattison isn't all about Greg Mattison.
"I said this once before and I've said this everywhere I've ever been... it is not a Greg Mattison defense," he stated. "It is a Michigan defense and we've got really, really good football coaches in that meeting room. If anybody ever sees something that they think might help our defensive be successful, they know their responsibility is to bring it up. Brady is the same way. If anybody saw something, then I better be able to justify why we're doing it or we change it or add to it. That's the way it will always be with our defense. It is the Michigan defense and we all have input."
That collaborative effort began in earnest last spring, and while Michigan's new defensive coordinator admits the unit didn't take quite as many steps as he had hoped it would, he is far from discouraged.
"There is no disappointment whatsoever," he said. "In fact if anything, I get excited and more enthused every day we meet just because of who you're working with. It is like taking guys and molding them like you want them to. I mentioned this to my wife… I said, ‘I can't ever remember coaching where you come in a meeting room and those players just sit there and say, ‘okay coach, what are we going to do today?' I'll bet you Craig Roh went a whole hour without me saying a positive thing on his technique and all that, but when he got done it was like, ‘okay coach I'll see you tomorrow'. They're all that way and that's why we have a chance to do something with this defense."
The question on the minds of most Michigan fans is will the "something" happen as soon as this year?
"It has to," replied Mattison matter-of-factly. "Michigan forever has taken great pride in defense, and will take great pride in defense again. That's our coaching objective and everything we're doing. Like I said, that starts with technique, starts with fundamentals, starts with stopping the run, starts with not giving up big plays, and starts with playing great red zone defense. That's what we'll be working on every day and that's also what we're recruiting towards."
For the rest of the defensive preview with a full breakdown of the unit position by position, a non-conference opponent previews, a tribute to Vada Murray, and much much more, be sure to check out the next issue of GoBlueWolverine