Mailbag: Retaining Mattison, Coach Before AD, Hackett Long-Term, Braxton Transfer, Schlissel Concerns(?) Comment Count

Brian November 14th, 2014 at 11:23 AM


Left: via Eric DeBoer. Right: ICE ICE BABY TOO COLD

Retaining Mattison?

Dear Brian,

It seems very clear that Hoke is gone at this point. Is there a scenario in which we could fire Hoke, but keep Mattison at DC? This is a top 25 team with a competent offense. I actually like Nuss too as I believe the playcalling has been good and Gardner just isn't executing, but he also seems as good as gone right?


It's rare for assistant coaches to be kept on after a head coaching change. OSU kept Luke Fickell, but they've devolved his responsibility repeatedly and their defense is not up to par with their offense. You get the sense he's mostly around for recruiting. Other than that I can't recall a coordinator-level assistant who survived their head man getting axed.

Making an exception for Mattison depends on a lot of things. For one, is he pissed off enough that he just retires? Mattison's pressers have been feisty, full-throated defenses of Brady Hoke over the last couple months. It's clear Hoke commands seriously loyalty from him, and it was expected he'd be retiring in the somewhat near future anyway. He would take some convincing to stay, and making that pitch is a delicate thing I'm not sure certain targets *cough*HARBAUGH*cough* would be good at.

Meanwhile, there's the question of how good this defense actually is. Yeah, they're seventh nationally in yards per game and 12th in yards per play. They've also faced a selection of completely horrible offenses. Yards per play rankings of Michigan power 5 opponents, out of 128:

  • PENN STATE: 121st
  • UTAH: 89th
  • MINNESOTA: 68th
  • INDIANA: 57th, but most of that is w/ Sudfeld
  • RUTGERS: 50th
  • NOTRE DAME: 38th

There are two teams in there that are better than average and if you take Indiana's QB situation into account (Indiana has averaged barely 200 yards a game since Diamont took over) there are three of the very worst teams in the country. #91 Maryland and… uh… #11 Ohio State are pending.

That plus Michigan's notoriously slow tempo means the advanced stats have a very different perspective on Michigan than raw ones. FEI has Michigan 35th(!) in the country, which is barely average in a schedule adjusted system. Michigan is 31st in S&P.

It's not hard to see why. They gave up 400 yards to Gary Nova, got plastered by David Cobb, and folded on the second drive in East Lansing against the one legitimately good offense they faced. The man press misstep was costly, and I don't have a lot of hope Michigan is going to throttle Ohio State.

So. Given that and the likelihood Mattison's going to call it quits sooner rather than later anyway, I wouldn't put a high priority on retaining him. It might be different if there was a guy on staff that looked like an heir apparent, but Mark Smith keeps getting bounced to other roles, Roy Manning is probably still too young, and Kurt Mallory was interviewing at I-AA schools last summer.

I don't see anyone sticking around after the transition except Manning, who's established himself a great recruiter and can go back to his natural LB spot. I still think Nussmeier's track record is an excellent one, especially in QB development, but it's going to be a hard sell to retain him after this year's performance.

[After the JUMP: AD hiring stuff, prez stuff.]

Hackett long term?

Hi Brian,

I understand that the university needs to complete its due diligence in hiring the right person for our next AD, but how about considering Jim Hackett long-term?  ESPN morning links included a great article about him and he seems like he might be a good fit. Any chance he isn't just our interim guy?

If he isn't our guy, how likely is it that we hire Jim Harbaugh and let Jim have input in the AD selection process? I know that this is backwards, but if we aren't putting together an AD selection committee for another week, it seems to me that we'll have to 1) hire a coach without the new AD, which is tough, or 2) the process will take so long the new AD and coach will miss the recruiting boat this year.


I would be leery of keeping him long term because of the parallels between Hackett and Brandon. Both come to the AD spot after a term as a corporate CEO; neither has been in an athletic department before. Both were hand-selected after minimal search based on relationships with people close to the throne—in Brandon's case in fact the person on the throne. That's fine for now in Hackett's case. He was installed out of immediate necessity and so that's the way that "search" had to go.

For a long term hire it's not. The likelihood that Hackett is the best guy for the job when you have a very well-liked Brad Bates at BC and Jeff Long, the head of the CoFoPoff committee,—both with deep links to the program—is very low. He's undoubtedly a nicer guy than Brandon. He's not an AD, and for pants sake it is time to hire a real damned AD for the first time in a million years.

What if people like him and he interviews well? I don't have to tell Michigan fans that, but being well-liked and having a two-hour face to face to determine whether this gold does in fact glitter are completely useless for predicting performance. Go get the guy who is doing the thing you want him to do, and well. Only way to be sure.

I do not have enough evidence to answer the last question.

This Braxton Miller question you people keep asking.

I had an interesting thought. With the #quarterbackcontroversy in Ohio, could Braxton Miller transfer? Could a hire of Herman make that happen? Did I just fart?



The graduate transfer exception comes with the same requirements that the regular one-time exception does and adds a couple on top. Since the normal way of transferring requires a release, this also requires a release. And while transfers have become a hot-button issue to the point where Bo Ryan was forced to allow Jarrod Uthoff to transfer within the conference just for the PR, there is no freakin' way OSU releases Braxton Miller to Michigan.

Yes, I know Michigan released Justin Boren to OSU. That is because Michigan was incredibly dysfunctional at the time. OSU will laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh if 1) Miller even wants to transfer and 2) he wants to transfer to Michigan. The PR they will not care about because that looks so bad on the part of Miller/Michigan that they won't take a hit.

Forget about this.

Hiring a coach first?


The conventional wisdom is that Michigan shouldn't hire a new coach until it has hired its AD, on the theory that the new AD should get to have "his guy." It makes sense that if you're hiring someone to run a company, that guy (or gal) needs the opportunity to surround himself with people who agree with and are capable of implementing his plan. But an AD is not a CEO. A CEO gets to tell his employees not only what the goal is, but exactly how they are required to go about trying to accomplish it.

ADs don't have that kind of relationship with their coaches (thinking that he does would be disqualifying, I hope). Every AD wants the same thing from his coaches: win as soon and as often as possible with the best citizens you can find, graduate those citizens, don't cheat. Whether the coach accomplishes that with a pistol formation, a 3-3-5 defense, or amazing special teams play should not be the concern of any sane athletic director.

I just can't imagine a new AD showing up and thinking, "Wow, I'm really glad they waited for me to get started on this urgent task that they've known needed to be done since at least mid-October. Especially since I have a completely different opinion from everyone else about who the best candidates are." I suppose top-tier coaching candidates might want to know who their boss is going to be before making a commitment, but it might be helpful to get their opinions on what they would consider to be a deal-breaker.

Besides, if you were an AD candidate, would you want your first task to be firing a nice guy from his dream job and making the most momentous decision you're going to make in your entire tenure, all under extreme time pressure? Or would you rather walk into a situation where you're either going to be a primary beneficiary of the warm feelings from a job well done or be able to disassociate yourself from it if it's another disaster (I know... it can't be another disaster)? Let's do the next guy a favor and get this done. A side benefit is that Schlissel would get to do the slow, careful AD search that I think he really wants to do.


I left all of this in because it makes the points I would otherwise make.

This is what's going to happen. Schlissel clearly doesn't know much about Big Time Athletics and is settling in for a long education period that culminates in an athletic director hire that he can be comfortable with, and we can be comfortable with. This was overlooked in the whole SACUA hubbub, but there is no way this:

“That’s why I’m taking a bit of time with the search for Dave’s successor,” Schlissel said. “Some folks wanted me to hire an athletic director (earlier) so he could fire the current football coach and hire the next coach but I want to take the time to make sure we get someone who is not only technically adept, but can ensure that the program has financial and academic integrity, and also someone who shares the value system of realizing our mission.

… “I’ve really learned that this whole athletic sphere and the usual way you approach things just doesn’t work. It’s just a crazed or irrational approach that the world and the media takes to athletics decisions.

“It’s a time sink,” he added.

Schlissel said he hasn’t formally looked for anyone to permanently fill the athletic director position.

Turns into a hire in the near future. Similarly, there is no way Michigan can look at the performance of the football team and the financial implications arising from it and retain Hoke. So: Hackett is going to fire him and hire the new guy.

Whether this is a good idea or not, it's happening. Michigan again finds itself stuck with bad timing. Meanwhile, OSU lucks into Urban Meyer. Hooray.

I don't think having Hackett make the hire is going to have much impact on the available coaches. If Harbaugh's coming he's still coming; if Mullen's coming he's still coming; established guys like Patterson/Gundy/Stoops were almost certainly not coming anyway; anyone below that is coming. So, fine.

How concerned should you be?


My question is simple:  Can you tell me why I should not be at least moderately concerned by what we’ve heard in the last 72 hours [from Schlissel]?


I think you should be a little concerned. It's concerning when the president of the U describes sports as a "time sink" and needs to find someone out there who can reshape the department. It's concerning that Schlissel got thrown in the deep end here thanks to Dave Brandon's toxicity.

I think there's some upside to Schlissel's approach, though. One of the first things he zeroed in on was the five dollar water; one of Brandon's final attempts to bring students flowers and say he's changed was to offer people coming in the student entrance free bottles of the stuff.

As long as the next guy isn't a textbook example of what not to do in the realm of public relations, it's the creeping, shitty incremental revenue extraction that is the lowest-hanging fruit. The amount of goodwill you get by hacking prices down to reasonable levels—it is 40% more expensive to get a coke at Yost than it is at Joe Louis—more than offsets the tiny drop in revenue, and Schlissel seems to feel as put off by all that as a normal human does.

That's the upside here. Schlissel is a normal human who says "I don't know" when he doesn't know and says what he thinks even if that is not 1000% pablum. This may go a bad way, but if it's going to go a good way he's the kind of person who needs to be in charge.



November 14th, 2014 at 12:28 PM ^

And Les would be the OL coach under Herman. After Harbaugh retains Hoke as DL coach and Mattison at LBs and Lloyd Carr comes back to coach the secondary, they'll pry Dantonio out of East Lansing to be DC. Urban Meyer will be OC; if he doesn't take the job then we offer it to Mullen.

All of that could happen. And Braxton Miller STILL isn't coming here.


November 14th, 2014 at 12:38 PM ^

2 things

1 Miller shouldn't be playing QB anyway, ohio is SO much better with their current QB Miller will be moved to RB next spring if he stays at ohio. 

2 no buckeye would transfer to Michigan

their parents homes would be burned down and they would not be allowed back in the state. 

I Like Burgers

November 14th, 2014 at 1:18 PM ^

Miller won't even be throwing until some time in the summer, so the Buckeyes will go through spring practice with Barrett as the QB too.  With shoulder issues a big question mark for his potential NFL future, I could see Braxton going the Denard route and working out as a WR for the 2015 for the Buckeyes.

As good as he was, its going to be really hard to beat a red hot Barrett after sitting out an entire season.  Not to mention Barrett will have an entire offseason to get even better than he was.


November 14th, 2014 at 11:47 AM ^

Unless I'm missing some context, I don't think Schlissel is necessarily saying athletics are a time sink.  The paragraph immediately before the time sink comment doesn't imply that.

I Like Burgers

November 14th, 2014 at 12:34 PM ^

I took that to mean constantly having to talk about ADs and football and coaches is taking up a lot more of his time than it reasonably should.  And only because its all a mess right now and he's the only adult left to deal with it, not because he doesn't like athletics.


November 14th, 2014 at 11:48 AM ^

It sounds as if you're sounding a cautionary note of optimism on Schlissel here - he's not going to be a guy who 'gets' athletics and certainly not in the way you discussed at length in your excellent "The Way Forward"  But at the same time, he's not a guy who - to paraphrase you - is in charge of things for the sake of being in charge of things.  

Restoring or even approximating our halycon glory days is what we should strive for, but for starters let's master not being pants-on-head stupid first, eh?

RHammer - SNRE 98

November 14th, 2014 at 1:46 PM ^

...this last week; these are likely the last two games for Fred Jackson as a Michigan football coach, as I agree with the earlier comments that there is basically zero likelihood he survives this next coaching change... if he did, it would be the fourth head-coach transition and fifth HC that he'd worked for at Michigan.

Say what you will about the man, but he has been a veritable institution within the program for 23 years, which, especially for an assistant coach, is an extremely long time...  I mean, Wheatley, Biakabatuka, Hart, Powers, and the greatest of all time, Chris Perry, all came up through his tutelage, and he even made good backs out of Howard, and Floyd and Toussaint, etc.  

for a quick trip down hyperbole lane, check the old tag entries here:

the end of Fred is nigh... long live Fred


November 14th, 2014 at 11:51 AM ^

No way in hell B.miller transfers to Michigan. We will find our QB next year with better coaching. I hope it is Harbaugh but if not I trust Hackett to bring in the right coach to get Michigan back on track IF a coaching change is made.


November 14th, 2014 at 11:52 AM ^

There might be a handful of guys who are better than Mattison but a lot of guys who are worse. I wonder if Michigan could do what the Lions did last year when they fired Jim Schwartz and Scott Linehan, but retained the other assistants for the next coach to choose if he wanted to keep them. Mattison's contract still has a few years left and he probably wouldn't get more money if he went elsewhere - he's already one of the highest paid assistants in the country and his family is here. He also has a relationship with the Harbaugh family, having worked with Jack and John.

Mattison did a fantastic job turning around the defense in year one, and has been very good most of the past 4 years with a few bad performances. There's a lot more offense in today's game though, and having a great defensive coordinator doesn't mean you never have bad performances - look at Pat Narduzzi and MSU the past few years. Overall great defense, but some teams have moved the ball very effectively against them, including Indiana the previous 2 seasons.


November 14th, 2014 at 2:59 PM ^

Both Penn State and Wisconsin have prime young defensive coordinators and both their defenses are well ahead of UMs on nearly every advanced metrics.  And UM's defense is much more experienced.  Wisconsin lost its entire front 7 to either injury or graduation including  its entire set of 4 linebackers (they run a 3-4).  The 2 returning tackles got hurt v LSU and just got back.  They held Rutgers to 0 points.   On the same measure UM is ranked 7th they are ranked 1st in the country.  And their data holds up a lot better on FEI and S&P+ - as does Penn States. 

Everyone gives UM's defense an excuse because of their tire fire offense saying how can the defense be expected to hold up?  But MSU in 2012 had a similar offense but when they lost it was 2 pts here, 4 pts there, 1 pt there.  They didnt do LOL things like we do vs Minnesota, ND, or MSU.   PSU has a worse offense than UM this year but their defense also doesnt do LOL things like ours does. 

You guys are very infatuated with Mattison who is an above average coach but even in this conference he might be the 5th best DC.  In 2011 he did a great job turning around a tire fire and since then its been varying degrees of success but nothing spectacular.  And some regression in the pass defense the past 2 years.

There is a whole world out of there of fine minds - young or otherwise - in the coaching world.  Quite a few even in our own conference.  People seem to be very stuck on the familiar because it is comforting rather than trying to upgrade.

Here is a story on the 38 year old Wiscy DC - this is the type of person we should be aiming for.…


November 14th, 2014 at 3:16 PM ^

I don't understand the infatuation with Mattison.  He's a good defensive coordinator and like you said, did a heck of a job turning around the D after the 2009 and 2010 season's but I don't think he's elite.  There are to many LOL moments/games over the last couple years for me to consider him elite.

Heck, the only games this year where Nova has throw for more then 200 yds are: Washing ton St (281), Howard (282) Tulane (291) and Michigan (404).  In 5 big ten games Nova's passing yardage is:  PSU (192), Michigan (404), OSU (192), Nebraska (156) and Wisconsin (46).


Bando Calrissian

November 14th, 2014 at 12:12 PM ^

Re: Miller, he'd also have to pay his own way to attend Michigan if he were to transfer, as conference rules dictate an athlete cannot transfer to another conference school and receive a scholarship. Hence why Boren paid his own way at OSU.


November 14th, 2014 at 12:17 PM ^

Mattison teared up in a press conference talking about Brady Hoke, saying he was the reason that he's coaching at Michigan.  I didn't preceive that to be coach speak.  He's gone if Hoke is fired.

There will be a fair amount of transition cost if/when Hoke is fired.  People shouldn't complain about losing coach x or player x...even though that's bound to happen.


November 14th, 2014 at 12:27 PM ^

Having just undergone two highly unsuccessful and difficult coaching transitions, I'm very surprised how off-handedly dismissive  Brian is of the importance of the upcoming one.

Maintaining some semblance of consistency would be huge IMO.  Mattison may not be the A+ coach we all thought he was, but he's still a B+ at worst.  Furthermore, he's a famously effective recruiter.  Hoke's gotten a ton of credit for the highly ranked classes, but Mattison may deserve more of it.  Plus, you know, we've seen him actually develop recruits into pretty decent players (unlike the other side of the ball.)

The change in scheme has been more costly then we anticipated -- which just speaks to my point. Transitions are hard.

Also there is the continued assertion that the '14 recruiting class doesn't matter because it's small, which ignores two very important points:  1) attrition is unknown and may balloon the class to 20-25 range.  2) we need a QB.  Malzone is not enough.   Michigan should absolutely hedge it bets at this critical position of need, just as they should have hedged their bets at OL in the '12 class.  Not to mention, they might want a dual-threat QB, depending on who the next coach is.

Obviously, getting the right guy is more important than the short-term consequences, but those ARE very important too.  Continuity has major benefits.


Also, the notion that we would keep Nussmeir over Mattison is a true head-scratcher, even if you ignore the institutional/community ties. Nussmeir was on the outs with Alabama and has never succeeded without the help of a higher profile coach beside him. Saban, Sarkisian, and Linehan aren't walking through the door.  Sound the Peter Principle alarm.



Blue Mike

November 14th, 2014 at 1:25 PM ^

It's more important that the next coach has coaches around him that he knows, trusts, and is comfortable with.  You don't keep Mattison or Nussmeier just because the kids know them; the next coach brings his guys to run his systems. 

And realistically, there is almost no chance Mattison sticks around, so it isn't a discussion which coordinator do we want to stay more.  Mattison walks out the door with Hoke; Nussmeier is independent of them.  Maybe he sticks around, maybe not.  Depends on the coach and style, but I don't think Nussmeier has been all that bad.  

You can say that Nussmeier hasn't succeeded without a top coach, but who else has he worked with?  He was a QB coach at MSU, and Stanton had his best season under Doug's watch.  Since then, he has been successful at every stop until here.  I wonder if his lack of success has more to do with being here with this staff than with his ability.

Let's not forget that Nussmeier hasn't even been here for a full calendar year.  I wouldn't mind keeping him around with a new coach, I think he could make the offense much more successful in a better environment.


November 14th, 2014 at 2:04 PM ^

A good coach is a good coach. You don't have to keep it in the family and some of the best hires across the country have been "bring this guy in because he's kicking ass" type hires.  Nussmeir is one example. Urban Meyer loves to do this. etc.

The other stuff are like your opinions, man.  I have different ones.

All of our coaches were successful somewhere else, or else they wouldn't have been hired here.  That's not a good argument for Nussmeir anymore. His track record isn't nearly as impressive as Mattison.  The offense is far worse than last year, and Nussmeir may not be entirely responsible for that, but he is likely part of the problem.

I see a parallel to our QB situation here.  The new guy (Morris/Nussmeir) gets the benefit of the doubt despite current evidence because the veil of uncertainty remains, while the old guy (Gardner/Mattison) whose warts have been exposed is taken for granted even if all evidence says he's the better at doing the job.



Blue Mike

November 14th, 2014 at 3:40 PM ^

So Nussmeier should get dinged because the offense is terrible, and he doesn't have a "track record", even though if you actually look at the stats, his quarterbacks before Devin have done very well.

But Mattison should get kudos, because his defense is average?  Mattison has had 4 years here, here is his "track record" that should probably matter:  FEI defense rankings:  16, 26 and 37 and S&P:  23, 29 and 50.  How's that for a track record?



November 14th, 2014 at 4:40 PM ^

This job, at Michigan, is the only place where Nussmeir has been THE coach of the offense.  So far, the results are putrid. This is the only offense that he can definitevly say is HIS (unless you think Brady Hoke is meddling in the O - something I strongly doubt.) 

I'm not 'dinging' him.  That implies we're starting from a position of proven success, which is simply not the case.  At Bama he had Saban and elite talent.  At Washington he was working under Sarkisian. Other places it's been Linehan or John L Smith. Nussmeir seems like an excellent QB coach. He has a track record there.  As an OC, it's open to interpretation.  Let's not forget he was on the verge of being pushed out at Alabama.

Mattison gets kudos because he's a proven success at many places. He's been a DC many times before, including in the NFL, and under many different head coaches.


If you want to avoid any nuance or context - being ranked in the 20s or 30s is a hell of a lot better than being ranked in the 70s or 80s.

Mattison took the awful 2010 D and turned it into a very good unit in 2011.  Nussmeir took a very bad 2013 offense and turned it into an awful 2014 unit.


Mr Miggle

November 14th, 2014 at 1:26 PM ^

It's very unlikely to be that large. Someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but the last two coaching changes only led to one transfer before LOI day, Ryan Mallett. Without attrition I think we're looking at 10-11 spots. It's unlikely we'll have more than 15 even with a change. Considering all the decommits, our new staff may have to scramble to fill that size class with good prospects.

We might benefit from taking an additional QB, but that isn't so easy to do. QBs tend to both commit early and hep recruit their classes. It's not easy to get someone you want late. RR was only able to get Justin Feagin. Signing a dual threat may lose you Malzone. Coaches can't simply get whatever numbers that might like at a given position.

It's not Michigan's choice whether to retain any of the current staff. That's going to be up to the new coach first. I would think Mattison is the only one who might choose not to return.



November 14th, 2014 at 2:15 PM ^

I realize that is the consensus opinion, but it doesn't make it a fact.

Mallet, Boren, and Manningham were all important pieces of attrition in 2008 (though MM was somewhat expected).  In 2011, it was smoother, personnel-wise, but you still lost a critical recruit in Jake Fisher.  Other players left too, though may were not significant the overall numbers were.  Those were all big recruiting classes and Michigan has only just now caught up scholarships-wise.  Rodriguez never had full numbers.

I would be the bank this class is over 15 and I think it's very likely to be above 20 (though someone like Harbaugh would help retention is my guess.)

Coaches absolutely CAN get whatever numbers they want, it just depends what kind of fliers you want to take. For Rodriguez that meant taking Feagin but it also meant taking Omameh and Martevious Odoms.  For Hoke it meant Tony Posada, Rawls, Barnett, Heitzman but also Frank Clark -- in other words a mixed bag.  It's higher risk and higher uncertainty -- that doesn't make it any less important.

Retaining coaches is a mutual decision.  Many, most even, will not be invited back. My point is that Mattison should be. He's one of the best defensive coaches in the country, he understands Michigan, he knows these players, and he wants to be in AA.  Unless our new coach is intent on cleaning house, or has a superior coach in the bag, it would be extremely unwise to push Mattison away if he is willing to return.


Mr Miggle

November 14th, 2014 at 4:16 PM ^

Boren left in April. Toney Clemons left in March. Mallett was the only player that transferred before LOI day. You couldn't have recruited to replace those players. There's no reason to think it would be any different this time around.

I don't know why you think coaches can sign 8 OL or whatever. Either you have to tell them that upfront or some of them are going to bolt. Can you sign 2 QBs in a class? Maybe, but you have to find 2 that don't mind it. If the first guy has been told he was going to be the only QB, I wouldn't assume he's going to be happy. He's going to have other options.


November 14th, 2014 at 4:43 PM ^

FSU has signed a lot of QBs in the last few years. Michigan has a history of signing multiple RBs.  The best man will win and the others will sit is SOP. 

I don't know why you think it's different for QBs, especially when Forcier/Robinson wasn't that long ago.

If your big worry is Malzone (a guy we are stealing away from the MAC) fleeing than your program has far bigger problems...

Mr Miggle

November 14th, 2014 at 6:43 PM ^

there's expected to be an ongoing competition for playing time. It's obviously different for QBs. Usually one gets all the snaps and they're hard to displace when healthy.

The question isn't whether you can ever recruit 2 QBs, it's in just assuming that you can start by recruiting one, tell him you're done at his position, and then add another late in the process. That's not what happened with Forcier/Robinson.

Malzone's star has risen since he commited. Not too many 4 star QBs are heading to the MAC. We were just worried about losing him to PSU. I'm not concerned about losing him to a coaching change. If that happens, it happens. I'm just saying that if the new coach wants to keep him, adding more QBs to the class may not be an option and they're not likely to be of his caliber. At this point, he's arguably our most important commit.