For the second time in his career, Greg Mattison is departing Michigan with a giant middle finger, and leaving a giant hole.
Michigan assistant expected to accept job at Ohio State https://t.co/j4wcjDyLDr
— WolverinesWire (@wolverineswire) January 7, 2019
After the 1996 season, Mattison, then Michigan's defensive coordinator, left to join Bob Davie in the same position at Notre Dame. Michigan's 1997 defense, which owed much to Mattison's recruiting and eye for talent, then won a national championship without him.
When he returned to Ann Arbor in 2011 Mattison was more heralded—justifiably so—than head coach and friend Brady Hoke. Greg inherited the worst defense perhaps in the history of the program, gave them an identity, and recruited the bulk of a unit that was, by 2015, once again among the nation's elite (except in the one game that matters).
That wasn't the last coaching transition Mattison helped to rescue here. Mattison planned to leave when Brady Hoke was fired—even boxing up his office. However Mattison had deep connections with the Harbaughs, earning his first coordinator job from Jack at Western Michigan in the mid-1980s, and serving as John's defensive coordinator for two years with the Baltimore Ravens. As he had when Davie was replaced with Tyrone Willingham in 2002, Mattison—still under contract—accepted a demotion to defensive line coach, keeping his room intact under Jim Harbaugh. For another four seasons, Mattison remained one of the top assistants in the nation in recruiting while producing elite defensive linemen, whether they came that way (Rashan) or had to be stolen back from the fullback room (Winovich).
At 70 with his contract expired, Mattison was expected to remain or retire as a Wolverine. While no official statement has confirmed it so far, it appears that new Ohio State head coach Ryan Day offered Mattison a chance to be defensive coordinator again. It was reported shortly after the Mattison news that current OSU DC Greg Schiano won't be retained, and Pete Thamel just reported that 49ers DB coach Jeff Hafley will be accepting a "co-" defensive coordinator role there. Hafley, like myself, is 39 and has never been a DC.
Impact: So, it's not a good look, either for Michigan nor Mattison, whose reputation shifts immediately from Septuagenarian of Swag to college football's worst Benedict Arnold. Losing an accomplished and well-known assistant to the very fine people in Columbus will be press released as exactly the kind of deep blow its orchestrators intended it to be. Superficially swiping your rival's 70-year-old assistant, however, creates as many questions about longevity tomorrow as petty high-fives today. Mattison's defensive line expertise is superfluous at Ohio State, who poached top DL coach Larry Johnson Sr. from Penn State when Franklin took over, so at best this is a temporary move for Ohio State while they groom Hafley.
Michigan could also be fine. Rising star OLB coach Al Washington would have been tough to retain this offseason; Washington, like Mattison, is a strong recruiter with deep Ohio ties and in fact was previously the Michigan coach rumored to be considering an OSU job. Mattison's departure instead should clear the way for Michigan to promote Washington up the assistant chain while returning him to his most natural coaching position; Washington was Don Brown's defensive line coach at Boston College and at most of his other stops.
That all of course depends on whether Brown himself stays with Michigan or accepts the Temple head coaching job that Manny Diaz just bounced from. Harbaugh will have to wait a few more tense weeks to have a good idea of who's going to be coaching with him in 2019.