ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- 30 years, that’s how long Michigan coach Brady Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison go back in their relationship.
And Monday, Mattison made it clear how much that means to him.
“Think of yourself, who do you know for 30 years?” Mattison asked. “Who did you make a career decision for? Who’s families are like brothers and sisters? There aren’t many of those in your life and who that you are close to that you respect as being a great coach, a great person, a great father, the things your parents taught you to be.
“Well, there aren’t many guys like that, so when you bring his name up, if I got emotional it’s because I feel that way. I’ve got a couple guys that are the same way. I’ve got a couple guys in my life that are like that. He happens to be one of them because we’ve gone through things together that, you all have friends like that.
“There’s only a few of them where you’ve gone through things together and they saw hey, you going to war? There’s a few in your life you’d say yes to and that’s what I’m saying because of how he treats people and because of how he runs a program, and I’m not trying to back him, it’s just the first time anyone’s asked me about him.”
“I haven’t seen any pressure around him,” Mattison said. “One thing our head football coach is, he is a tough, hard nosed son of a gun. And when a guy works as hard as he does and prepares the way he does then there’s not pressure.
“Pressure, to me pressure is when you haven’t done your job or aren’t doing your job. Pressure is when you don’t prepare. I come in, doesn’t matter what time I’m in in the morning, his car is sitting there, he’s working. I leave at night, he’s working. Pressure to me is when I’m not quite doing what I should be doing or can be doing. I don’t see that in our head coach.
“And again, I’ll say it again, there’s one reason I’m here and that’s because of our head football coach.”
In Saturday night’s 26-10 loss at home to Utah, Hoke and Mattison briefly engaged in a verbal confrontation.
After having already had the Michigan sideline warned for coaches and players being on the field, the referees threw a flag in the second quarter for a second violation, this time costing the Wolverines five yards and giving Utah a more manageable field goal to make, which they did.
Following an explanation from the ref to Hoke, the fourth year Michigan coach turned to his coordinator and long time friend Mattison, urging him to get off the field.
Mattison quickly responded with some words of his own as the television cameras caught the encounter, getting emotional when speaking of Hoke Monday.
“It’s a heat of a ball game,” Mattison said. “He and I are two of the most competitive people in the world. I’m out there in the middle of the field during a timeout, I got an official saying get back and I want to go after him and strangle him cause I’m trying to get done what I want to get done.
“Then I’ve got the head coach being a head coach and let me just say this, I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for Brady Hoke. Anybody can say anything they want, that man is why I’m here.
“You should see us play euchre. You outta see us when we first knew each other and we used to wrestle each other or we’d play basketball against each other. There’s no more competitiveness in me or him than there is anywhere.
“And so, when he said something to me, I should’ve never said a word; he’s the head football coach. But at that moment, I was upset cause I wanted our guys to do well, he was being a head football coach, which he does a phenomenal job of. So I snapped at him and it’s a good thing it was him, maybe someone else would’ve fired me right there.”
Just four games into the 2014 season and now entering Big Ten play in what would normally appear to be a very winnable conference championship for Michigan, pressure appears to be encapsulating the program with a 2-2 start, and an ugly 2-2 start at that.
From an on the field perspective, the defense has been improved, currently ranking first in the Big Ten in total defense, allowing just 261 total yards per game thus far. Still, Mattison believes his unit needs to be better for Michigan.
“Until you can show me our film and you can show me a defense that plays perfect on every single play, there is nothing to talk about,” Mattison said. “This is a team. It’s a team all the way and it’ll always be that way and I love these guys.
“Offense, they’re trying, they’re going at it as hard as they can. I see them coming off the field. We’re in it together now and we’re going to get it done together and that’s what I’m excited about.”
Lewis’ play stands out
Late in the first quarter of Michigan’s loss Saturday, Utah completed a screen to the outside to running back Bubba Poole, completely fooling the Wolverines defense and with blockers out in front.
From the other cornerback spot, on the opposite side of the field, sophomore Jourdan Lewis began his pursuit, running down Poole on what very easily could’ve been a touchdown.
Instead, Poole was tackled by Lewis at the Michigan 25 after a 67-yard gain, Utah eventually settling for a field goal.
“That is Michigan defense,” Mattison said. “We show clips from 1992 or 1994 against Ohio State, running all the way from the far corner, making a hit. We talked about that with him since the day he got here and when that came on and we showed the entire defense we said this is Michigan defense.
“For a guy to go as hard and as fast as he can go and run all the way from the far, far corner and we all talk about it, give me a place to stand, give our defense a chance to keep them out of the end zone and guess what, he kept them out of the end zone.
“That’s one of those things where you say, that wasn’t happening the last couple of years and that’s happening now and it’ll continue to happen.”