The Greg Mattison File

Submitted by Brian on January 19th, 2011 at 3:32 PM


So, Greg Mattison. He's been a coach forever, starting out as an Illinois GA and winding his way through a half-dozen schools coaching defensive linemen with a brief stint as WMU's DC in the mid-80s.

In 1992 he moved from Texas A&M to Michigan, where he was the DL coach from '92 to '94; in '95 he was promoted to DC. Notable players he coached include All-Americans Chris Hutchinson, Will Carr, and Jason Horn, '93 team captain Buster Stanley, and the bulk of Michigan's terrifying '97 defensive line that featured Glen Steele.

Mattison's Michigan defenses were good even for the standards of the time. Opponents averaged 12.1 points per game in '95, and none of them scored 30. Michigan State got a punt return touchdown to get to 28 in a 28-25 win, the most points actually given up by the D that season were the 27 ceded Penn State. It was kind of good:

The team earned the fifth of six 1990s Big Ten rushing defense statistical championships for all games by holding opponents to 93.2 yards per game. The team also earned the fifth of five consecutive and six 1990s Big Ten rushing defense statistical championships for conference games by holding opponents to 88.1 yards per game. The team led the conference in total defense for conference games (314.5) and all games (284.8).

In 1996 the D took a moderate step back, giving up 15.3 PPG and twice allowing 29 points, one in a comfortable win over MSU and once in another loss to PSU. In Michigan's three other losses the offense scored 16, 3, and 14 points. The bit about M standing for "mediocre" was launched after that season but it wasn't because of the D.

After the year Mattison left to be Notre Dame DC under Bob Davie. At the time this was high treason, but now people are talking about how his kids got free tuition and back in the mid-90s that meant something for assistants. I'm all like whatever in re: this matter.

Mattison was the DC for the entire dismal Davie era, a stretch of five years from 1997 to 2001. The NCAA database kicks in in '99, so we can provide (most of) the 1,000 foot view for his last three years:

Year School Rush D Pass D Pass Eff D Total D Scoring D
1999 Notre Dame 50 Bad 82 74 78
2000 Notre Dame 57 43 61 51 35
2001 Notre Dame 39 10 38 14 22

[The 1999 stats don't have pass yardage D but we can surmise from the other numbers it was Not Good.]

At the time ND was playing legitimately brutal schedules—have fun storming Nebraska and Tennessee, kids—and in 2001 Davie saddled Mattison with the 110th-ranked offense in the country, so that last bit is something of an achievement. Caveat: it's hard to tell exactly how much influence Mattison had since Davie was a DC before he ascended to the top chair but given their respective career arcs it seems reasonable to assume it was Mattison doing the good things.

When Davie got broomed the next year Mattison was kept on but demoted to DL coach, where he remained until Ty Willingham got the axe. This could have been curtains for his career but instead he moved to Florida, where he operated as a co-DC with Charlie Strong. The rankings from that stretch:

Year School Rush D Pass D Pass Eff D Total D Scoring D
2005 Florida 10 38 25 9 18
2006 Florida 5 33 4 6 6
2007 Florida 10 98 71 41 46

You may remember the '07 Florida defense from such bowl games as "Aargh You Could Have Been Doing This For Years." That season Florida's untenably young secondary spent the season getting toasted tasty-crisp; the next year they'd recover en route to a national title, finishing 9th in total D.

Mattison was in the NFL by then. He left Florida for to be the Ravens' LB coach and was quickly promoted from that spot when Rex Ryan left to coach the Jets after his first year. In both his seasons as Ravens DC Mattison's charges finished 4th in DVOA, an advanced metric from Football Outsiders that adjusts for schedule strength and other vagaries. That's actually a tiny step back from Ryan's tenure, when the Ravens were second, fifth, and first in the league in defensive DVOA, so that wasn't exactly a rebuilding job.

In fact, most of Mattison's career as a DC consists of him walking into established situations and maintaining high levels of play for brief periods of time. The exception is his run at Notre Dame, where there were obviously some things very wrong that Mattison (and/or Davie, but again career arcs) repaired as the Fighting Irish footbaw era drew to a close. He's never walked into Chernobyl and walked out with an extra arm for ass-kickin'.

That and a couple of years here and there where his defenses weren't at least good are about the only knocks. He toiled in the ND salt mines forever and when Willingham's staff got fired he got a promotion at Florida; he then was the instant choice in Baltimore despite only being around one year. Both the circumstantial evidence and number suggest that Mattison is for real and the kind of A-list hire that Michigan sorely needed after the GERG/surprise-3-3-5 era.

Greg Mattison is not a man with a stuffed beaver.

BONUS CONSPIRACY THEORY: Hoke hired Mattison just to fire him after this year. Mattison leaves Michigan: national title. Mattison leaves Notre Dame: BCS game after being terrible. Mattison leaves Florida: national title.  Put your money on the Ravens next year.



January 19th, 2011 at 3:58 PM ^

While our D might be the football equivalent of Chernobyl it is not out of the realm of possibilities for Mattison to turn it around in 1 year. 

GERG was forced to coach a system he had no experience with, failed to properly motivate his players (as evidenced by RR stepping in front of the D @Penn State, hasn't had any recent success before Michigan to speak of, spent most his time on the sideline picking his nose, and rubbed his players with a stuffed beaver for whatever reason. 

I expect the D to be significantly better next year. 


January 19th, 2011 at 4:02 PM ^

You sound rather reserved about this Brian.  

Serious question:

Did you look at his past recruiting exploits?  It sounds like he brought in some serious ass kickers during his time at Michigan...


January 19th, 2011 at 4:03 PM ^

Hiring excellent coordinators is such an underrated part of evaluating a good head coach. The fact that Borges and Mattison speak so well of Hoke, even though both have been in the game for much longer is a major credit to Hoke. 

Yesterday I kept thinking about Greg Robinson and how they kept showing him again and again throughout the Gator Bowl. This hire makes me very happy


January 19th, 2011 at 5:04 PM ^

One reason I was dubious about the Hoke hire is that I imagined it would mean things like the return of Mike Debord as OC. I didn't realize Hoke would be bringing in such a heavy hitter. Glad to know I can strike one worry from my list.

Mattison's age and family connections are reassuring too - need not fret about moving on to a HC job in a few years, as one would with a younger, less settled coach.

El Jeffe

January 19th, 2011 at 7:26 PM ^

Not to pick nits, but in what sense is Al Borges a heavy hitter? Or did you mean that Greg Mattison is the defensive equivalent of a heavy hitter on offense, which is to be differentiated from what DeBord would have been?

Next time just name check Ron English. A lot more efficient.


January 19th, 2011 at 4:04 PM ^

Did Mattison come for money or because of Hoke? I wonder would he have run the D for RR if offered the job?

Don't get me wrong....I'm absolutely school girl giddy over this hire...I just keep imagining spread n shred hooked up to a D that can play and go hmmmmmmm.

The FannMan

January 19th, 2011 at 7:23 PM ^

That article, and Mattison's quotes, make it very plain that he is here because of Hoke and would not be here otherwise.  I wonder if Brandon knew this all along?  It certainly adds a lot to what Hoke brought to the table.

I am not convinced that he is just hear b/c of family.  If he only wanted to come to Ann Arbor to be close to his daughter and future grandkid, he could have just retired and moved to the area.  Given his employment history,  he probably isn't hurting for coin.  I think this hire is attributable to Hoke.


January 19th, 2011 at 4:07 PM ^

I have not been a firm believer in Hoke, but putting the right coaches around you is a big part of the job and Hoke taking Mattison from the Ravens,makes me respect a little bit more. Hopefully next year Michigan can make a jump as big as Illinois did this year,minus the Michigan game.

Twisted Martini

January 19th, 2011 at 4:10 PM ^

I remember being excited about Mattison the first go 'round, as he was one of the architects of the vaunted ATM "Wrecking Crew" defenses of the late 80s/early 90's.  I think I read some where that one of the reasons he left is that he had issues with Llyoyd, anyone know about that?  I think it is a great get for us-dude has a sweet pedigree at multiple stops including the Ravens.  POW!


January 19th, 2011 at 4:43 PM ^

I think the D would improve significantly anyway next year (sans Gerg), but this makes it even more likely. Mattison obviously has a very good resume.

However, 2007 Florida (I wasn't aware he was the co-DC there) is a great example of the limits of coaching. They had Charlie Strong (a renowned defensive guy) AND Mattison coaching them, but their pass defense was 2010 Michigan horrific. Why? As discussed before, it was lousy with freshmen. The next year? Much improved, even with Strong still at the helm, just b/c they got more experience.

Just guessing, but even if we had Mattison here this year, our D still would have been bad, particularly our pass D. However, it is 99% likely would it have been better, perhaps allowing us to win one more game (e.g., Penn State or Iowa).

I'm glad he's a good recruiter, b/c in the end, there's no substitute for having players with experience (and hoping they stay healthy), so we need to keep replenshing our depth.


January 19th, 2011 at 4:44 PM ^

If Mattison/Davie fixed problems on the ND defense, you'd think that Mattison would have to get a lot of the credit, since Davie would have been responsible for the problems developing in the first place. 


January 19th, 2011 at 4:58 PM ^

hopefully he can get things on track...obviously we would be better anyways, but going back to the 4-3 and getting good and big lineman will be the key to stopping big ten offenses.


January 19th, 2011 at 5:13 PM ^

Michigan's front seven were all smaller than Ron Dayne and held them to 80 yards in the first half and 0 in the second in one of their games.  Our line is bigger than that 99-00 line.  I really wish the meme that RR only recruited slot ninjas to play All positions would just die.  He recruited big whenever he had the chance, in addition to some of the crappy small players like Denard and Odoms /s.  Michigan is not lacking in size, and size is not always necessary (see jamie Morris, Mike Hart).  The age of the players and the switch to the 4-3, and the superior coaching will be reasons for the improvement of this D.


January 19th, 2011 at 5:11 PM ^

I was veeerrry worried about this hire. I think he is a massive upgrade to our several past DCs and should go a ways toward helping us get competitive again. That said, this is another Michigan Mafia hire, and I still worry about the whole thing winding up a huge groupthink thang where everyone loves how Michigan-y everyone is but they forget to win games. At minimum I would like to see a stronger effort to breed the next generation of progressive and kick ass coaches, starting with bringing in some younger guys with ideas they didn't get from Bo, Mo, or Lloyd.

Panic averted for now, however.