Big Ten: Jerry Montgomery

Is it safe? Is Big Ten coach poaching season over? For the sake of this post, let's hope so.

Although this year's Big Ten coaching carousel didn't include as many riders as last year's, which featured an unprecedented 40 changes in the league, there was a flurry of activity at the end. We saw two coaches -- Jim Bollman and Jim Bridge -- make jumps from one Big Ten school to another (in Bridge's case, he left Illinois the day the Illini opened spring ball for Purdue, where he replaced, you guessed it, Bollman as offensive line coach).

Purdue saw a complete staff overhaul in the transition from Danny Hope to Darrell Hazell, while Wisconsin brought in seven new assistants under new boss Gary Andersen. Illinois coach Tim Beckman survived a disastrous first season in Champaign, but he lost six assistants during the winter months, five of whom left voluntarily. Iowa's stretch of staff stability is over, as Kirk Ferentz hired three new assistants for the second straight year, and Michigan State restructured its staff after losing offensive coordinator Dan Roushar to the NFL's New Orleans Saints. Michigan made its first staff change of the Brady Hoke era after losing defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery to Oklahoma.

Despite the movement around much of the Big Ten, the league also had complete staff continuity at four schools: Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern and Ohio State. Nebraska flipped responsibilities for Barney Cotton and John Garrison, making Cotton the tight ends coach and Garrison the sole offensive line coach. Ohio State added special teams coordinator to the title of cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs.

Minnesota and Northwestern are the only FBS teams without a staff change for the past three seasons.

It seems like the carousel has finally stopped, so let's take a look at the staff changes throughout the league. These changes only include head coaches and full-time assistants.

Here's the rundown (number of new coaches in parentheses):

ILLINOIS (5)

Who's gone?

Chris Beatty, co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Billy Gonzales, co-offensive coordinator/wide receivers
Luke Butkus, offensive line
Keith Gilmore, defensive line
Steve Clinkscale, cornerbacks

Who's in?

Bill Cubit, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Mike Bellamy, wide receivers
A.J. Ricker, offensive line
Greg Colby, defensive line
Al Seamonson, outside linebackers

Other moves

Hired Ricker after Bridge left for same post at Purdue
Made defensive coordinator Tim Banks secondary coach (had previously coached only safeties)
Split linebacker duties between holdover Mike Ward and new assistant Seamonson
Promoted Bellamy from assistant director of player personnel

INDIANA (2)

Who's gone?

Mike Ekeler, co-defensive coordinator/linebackers
Mark Hagen, defensive tackles/special teams and recruiting coordinator

Who's in?

William Inge, co-defensive coordinator/linebackers
James Patton, special teams and recruiting coordinator/assistant defensive line

IOWA (3)

Who's gone?

Erik Campbell, wide receivers
Lester Erb, running backs/special teams
Darrell Wilson, defensive backs/special teams

Who's in?

Bobby Kennedy, wide receivers
Chris White, running backs/special teams
Jim Reid, assistant linebackers

Other moves

Reid and holdover LeVar Woods will share linebacker duties
D.J. Hernandez, an offensive graduate assistant hired this winter, will work with the tight ends

MICHIGAN (1)

Who's gone?

Jerry Montgomery, defensive line

Who's in?

Roy Manning, outside linebackers

Other moves

Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison will coach defensive line (head coach Brady Hoke also has responsibilities there)
Manning and Mark Smith will share linebacker duties, as Smith now will handle the inside linebackers

MICHIGAN STATE (2)

Who's gone?

Dan Roushar, offensive coordinator/tight ends
Ted Gill, defensive line

Who's in?

Jim Bollman, co-offensive coordinator/tight ends
Ron Burton, defensive line

Other moves

Promoted quarterbacks coach Dave Warner to co-offensive coordinator/running backs coach. Warner will call plays this fall
Moved running backs coach Brad Salem to quarterbacks
Promoted defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi to assistant head coach

PENN STATE (1)

Who's gone?

Ted Roof, defensive coordinator

Who's in?

Anthony Midget, safeties

Other moves

Promoted secondary coach John Butler to defensive coordinator. Butler will continue to coach cornerbacks
Running backs coach Charles London and linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden will oversee special teams, an area Butler previously handled

PURDUE (10)

Who's gone?

Danny Hope, head coach
Gary Nord, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Tim Tibesar, defensive coordinator/linebackers
Greg Burns, defensive backs
Shawn Clark, offensive line
J.B. Gibboney, special teams coordinator
Patrick Higgins, wide receivers
Cornell Jackson, running backs
Donn Landholm, outside linebackers
Kevin Wolthausen, defensive line

Who's in?

Darrell Hazell, head coach
John Shoop, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Greg Hudson, defensive coordinator
Jon Heacock, defensive backs
Jim Bridge, offensive line
Kevin Sherman, wide receivers
Jafar Williams, running backs
Marcus Freeman, linebackers
Rubin Carter, defensive line
Gerad Parker, tight ends/recruiting coordinator

Other moves

Replaced Jim Bollman with Bridge after Bollman left for Michigan State

WISCONSIN (8)

Who's gone?

Bret Bielema, head coach
Matt Canada, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Chris Ash, defensive coordinator/defensive backs
Zach Azzanni, wide receivers
Andy Buh, linebackers
Eddie Faulkner, tight ends
Bart Miller, offensive line
Charlie Partridge, co-defensive coordinator/defensive line

Who's in?

Gary Andersen, head coach
Andy Ludwig, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Dave Aranda, defensive coordinator/linebackers
Chris Beatty, wide receivers
Bill Busch, secondary
Jeff Genyk, tight ends/special teams coordinator
Chad Kauha'aha'a, defensive line
T.J. Woods, offensive line

Retained from previous staff

Thomas Hammock, assistant head coach/running backs/recruiting coordinator
Ben Strickland, assistant secondary coach

Other moves

Hired Genyk to replace tight ends/special teams Jay Boulware, who left earlier this month for a post at Oklahoma
Former Michigan linebacker Roy Manning is headed back to his alma mater as an assistant coach, a source close to Manning confirmed to ESPN.com on Monday.

Manning will fill the vacancy left by defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery, who left last month for the same job at Oklahoma. Michigan has yet to confirm Manning's hiring or specify his title with the Wolverines.

Manning listed himself as Michigan's outside linebackers coach on his Twitter page earlier Monday before changing the title to "assistant coach." Although Manning certainly would be qualified to coach linebackers, he already has worked with several position groups in a brief coaching career. Manning coached running backs at Cincinnati last season before taking the same post at Northern Illinois in January. He worked with Michigan's offensive linemen as a graduate assistant in 2011 and also served on the defensive staff at Cincinnati in 2010.

Manning played linebacker for the Wolverines from 2001-04 before moving onto the NFL, where he played for five teams in three seasons. He's a native of Saginaw, Mich.

Big Ten lunchtime links

February, 27, 2013
2/27/13
12:00
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Phew, for a minute there I lost myself.

Big Ten lunchtime links

February, 25, 2013
2/25/13
12:00
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And the Oscar goes to ... Linkin'
Michigan coach Brady Hoke often has said his staff includes three defensive-line coaches: himself, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison and the actual line coach, Jerry Montgomery.

The Wolverines are down to two as Montgomery has accepted the same job on Oklahoma's staff, sources have told ESPN RecruitingNation's Tom VanHaaren and Jake Trotter. Montgomery is the first assistant to depart Michigan since Hoke took over before the 2011 season.

Neither team has made an official announcement about Montgomery, but Michigan defensive tackle Ondre Pipkins tweeted about the coach's departure Saturday, thanking Montgomery and wishing him luck at OU. Montgomery will replace Jackie Shipp, the Sooners' longtime defensive-tackles coach who wasn't retained for 2013 Insider.

Montgomery did a solid job for Michigan both on the field and on the recruiting trail. He certainly had security in Ann Arbor, but the move makes sense if he can grow professionally more with Oklahoma. After all, both Hoke and Mattison are heavily involved with Michigan's defensive line; Montgomery might have more autonomy with Oklahoma. Would he have been the top choice to succeed the 63-year-old Mattison as coordinator? Perhaps, but Mattison shows no signs of slowing down, and Hoke certainly could find a coach with previous FBS coordinator experience.

Montgomery briefly accepted a job with Indiana 2011 before joining Michigan's staff. The former Iowa Hawkeye also has coached defensive line at Wyoming and Northern Iowa.

Big Ten lunch links

February, 21, 2013
2/21/13
12:00
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I don't wanna meet anything on Monday that I'm gonna eat on Friday.

Big Ten mailblog

May, 15, 2012
5/15/12
3:30
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Let's check that May mail.

Matt from Sidney, Neb., writes: Adam,Total speculation here, but your article with playoff possibilities had the "Top 6" set-up been in place got me thinking of Delany's possible ulterior motive for his proposal (he wouldn't propose it if it didn't offer the B1G an advantage). Wouldn't this scenario put Notre Dame at a disadvantage for being independent? With that set up, a top 4 ND team would be left out if a conference champ was in the top 6 (if the other 3 in the top were champs). So...Top 4 = ND + 3 conference champs;#5 or 6 is a conference champ;ND is left out.So the whole point: a disadvantaged ND has more incentive to join a conference, with the assumed destination being the B1G. Lots of speculation, but that Delany fella is wiley. Thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Matt, I think the details still would need to be worked out on access for independents like Notre Dame, and it's really interesting to think about how much power, if any, Notre Dame has at this stage in terms of playoff access. That said, I think the Notre Dame-to-Big-Ten ship has sailed, as far as Delany is concerned. Has he totally written it off? No. He can't do that. But the growing sentiment is if Notre Dame joins a league, it will be the ACC, not the Big Ten. And Notre Dame's preference is to remain independent in football. From talking to folks in the Big Ten, it's clear to me that the Big Ten won't actively pursue Notre Dame again. If the Irish want to be part of the B1G, they need to do the courting this time.


Mike from Boston writes: Now that you've seen the new upgrades to PSU's strength program, how do you think it compares to the best programs in the Big Ten like Iowa?

Adam Rittenberg: Penn State is undoubtedly moving closer to the cream of the crop in the Big Ten. It's clear the strength program needed to be modernized, and Craig Fitzgerald has been an excellent addition in State College. The new approach already has yielded positive results, particularly with the offensive linemen. It's hard to say this strength program is better than that one, but I think it's safe to say Penn State is more on par with the programs throughout the Big Ten than it was before.


Todd from Peoria, Ill., writes: Adam,I like your analysis of Jim Delany's proposed playoff format. I would suggest one change and am interested in your thoughts. If a team that didn't win their conference, or even their division falls in the top two, they should still get in ahead of a conference champion ranked 5 or 6. That would ensure you would always have the top two in the playoff while rewarding conference champions over others to fill the remaining two spots, as long as they are in the top six.What do you think?

Adam Rittenberg: Todd, I like your idea. As I pointed out in Monday's post, there would be a lot less outcry about a No. 5 conference champ replacing a No. 4 than a No. 6 league champ leapfrogging a No. 2 non-champion (league or division) like Alabama in 2011 or Nebraska in 2001. I can't see a system being approved that would potentially leave a team like last year's Alabama squad out of the playoffs. The discussions remain fluid and the selection procedures likely will be the trickiest part going forward now that a four-team model seems fairly set.


Carlton from Chicago writes: Agree with your sentiments that Michigan will not have as dominant of a D-line this year, but don't you think Michigan has enough excellent coaching to put them in the right spots this year? It seems that Hoke and Old Man Mattison were excellent in doing this last year. Can that cover for the majority of the weaknesses the line has shown?

Adam Rittenberg: It's very possible, Carlton. Michigan has no shortage of expertise in defensive line coaching, and Brady Hoke, Greg Mattison and Jerry Montgomery know what it takes to develop players. It wouldn't surprise me to see a star develop from the D-line this fall. I'm very interesting to see how a bulked-up Craig Roh performs at the strongside defensive end spot. And there's always the Will Campbell watch.


Boston Bucky from Jamaica Plain, Mass., writes: I'm a life-long Badger fan with a family that has season tix to the UW slate. I pick one game to go back for every year. It has been pretty easy to pick which game in the last few years (Nebraska's Big 10 debut last year was a no-brainer).Should I attend the MSU game on Halloween weekend or the OSU game just before Thanksgiving?MSU has become the most relevant rival over the past two years, but this off-season recruiting beef has certainly spiced up things with OSU.I'm leaning one way right now, but would love your opinion.

Adam Rittenberg: Both good choices, Bucky, but I'd pick the Ohio State game and have no regrets. While it'd be great to be in Mad-city for Halloween weekend, the Ohio State game carries more excitement in my view. It's a division home game against a Buckeyes team that will be improved under Urban Meyer. You have the Meyer-Bret Bielema subplot after the recruiting spat. You have the two teams that have won the past seven league titles. While Michigan State should be a fun one too, I think the Ohio State game will mean more for the Badgers in their quest to repeat as division champs.


John from Austin, Texas, writes: Adam,I think I'm lost on the whole "That team" comment. Am I lost or do those of us that live in the South just perhaps miss the finer points of the English language. Granted, I didn't see the actual question before his statement, but it looks to me like someone asked him about "non-conference winner" or division, or something like that and he then used "that team" referencing the non-conf winner. To read "Alabama" out of a reference to "non-conf winner" seems like Washington politics more than anything else.

Adam Rittenberg: John, I definitely see your point, and while I could make some snide remarks about southerners, I'll resist. I think by using the phrase "that team," months after a team fitting the description captured the national championship -- a team from the Big Ten's rival conference, no less -- Delany made it easy for folks to form the link to Alabama. Had he used the phrase "those teams," and mentioned several of them, like Stanford from 2011, the backlash wouldn't have been so severe. But it was a poor choice of phrase, given the timing, and Delany paid the price.


Brandon from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: Hi Adam, the link Brian posted about abandoning the National Championship in favor of the Rose Bowl piqued my interest. Personally, I think it's a terrible idea, and will only further the perception that the Big Ten is falling behind in college football. Incoming players want to play for championships, and the Rose Bowl just doesn't have the pull that it used to. More and more players will decide not to play in the B1G or the P12 because of this. My question is, what percentage of B1G fans agree with abandoning the National Championship? Perhaps you could set up one of those nifty polls.

Adam Rittenberg: Brandon, this is a great question/topic to discuss, given the shifting environment in college sports. There's a portion of Big Ten fans I talk to who remain traditionalists. They love the Rose Bowl, want the Big Ten championship in Pasadena every year and don't really care about the SEC and its national championship streak. But the younger generation of Big Ten fans seems more championship-focused and less obsessed with the Rose Bowl and the history. They're ticked off by the SEC's bluster and want to see Big Ten teams start raising the crystal football again. Many of the Big Ten players also fit into this category. Will it mean more Big Ten teams enter that mix for national titles? We'll see. But that's the key, for the Big Ten's depth at the top to get closer to what the SEC has right now.


Matt from Dallas writes: What is with all this faith in Mich St? I cannot see them beating Michigan or Nebraska this year. In fact Mich St has never beat Nebraska and this year I would argue Nebraska will be better than they were last year and Mich St will not be as good as last year when Nebraska handled them. Where is the logic????

Adam Rittenberg: It's all about the Spartans defense, Matt. Right now, the Michigan State D looks like the single best unit in the Big Ten entering the season. Michigan State has All-Big Ten candidates in all three levels of the defense and should be extremely stingy this fall. The Michigan game will be tough for the Spartans, but Michigan State has won four straight in the series. While Nebraska handled the Spartans easily last year, remember where that game fell for MSU: at the end of a stretch featuring Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin. It's not a shock that Michigan State had a letdown in Lincoln. And Nebraska failed miserably in its two marquee Big Ten road games last year (Michigan, Wisconsin). While both the Wolverines and the Huskers could win the division, Michigan State is my favorite entering the season.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan's Craig Roh has been ingesting about 5,000 calories per day this spring, trying to bulk up by about 10 pounds to play strong side defensive end. He's eating six meals per day, and says there are days when he feels like throwing up all the time.

Yet, this offseason has been a lot easier to stomach for Roh than last year, when another transition didn't get off to the smoothest of starts. During last spring and summer, Roh was steadily getting criticized by new defensive coordinator Greg Mattison as he moved from linebacker to weakside defensive end.

[+] EnlargeCraig Roh
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioCraig Roh is bulking up to switch positions on Michigan's defensive line.
"I'd have those moments like, 'Does he even think I'm worth anything?'" Roh told ESPN.com. "He broke me down to my core and built me back up. It was one of the hardest things I've been through in my life, but also one of the most rewarding."

After a slow start last year, Roh improved to finish with 32 tackles, including eight for loss, on one of the best defensive lines in the Big Ten. Now, he's the only starter back on the line, moving over to the spot where Ryan Van Bergen starred a last season.

The Wolverines are counting on him to be a playmaker and a leader, two things he accomplished in spring practice.

"I think the move of Craig Roh was a very, very good move," Mattison said. "He had one of the best springs of any of our guys. I think the thing that would bother him was open spaces. We felt that moving him inside gives him a chance to show his ability."

Roh will be right in the middle of the action on the strong side, and often will have to face more than one blocker. Hence the need to build up from last season's listed playing weight of 269 pounds.

"It's great because the ball comes to you, and you don't have to run far to get to it," he said. "You just have to be strong and throw off blocks, be explosive. That's what I am. It's an exciting transition, and I've been able to make a lot of plays in spring practice. It's been fun."

Fun hasn't always described Roh's other moves. In Rich Rodriguez's 3-3-5 scheme, he played outside linebacker and, like much of the defense during that era, struggled mightily at times.

"At linebacker, I did not know what was going on at all," he said. "I know what I'm good at and what I'm not good at. I'm not good at linebacker. I know I am good at reading and reacting on the defensive line."

It took a couple of games last season before Roh started feeling comfortable in Mattison's system. He told the media last fall that he broke down in tears in front of his family after the opener against Western Michigan. He had to get used to the high standards Michigan has for its defensive line. After all, Mattison and head coach Brady Hoke are defensive line coaches at heart, and Jerry Montgomery is a demanding position coach.

"The pressure is immense," Roh said. "You have three different people critiquing what you're doing. They're not always going to give you compliments. Most of the time, they're not going to give you compliments."

But they have been complimentary of Roh's play so far this offseason, with Hoke telling ESPN.com that Roh "can be a big plus for us this year." A bigger plus, if he keeps up his high-calorie diet.
Indiana announced Monday that defensive ends coach/recruiting coordinator Brett Diersen has resigned.

Diersen joined Kevin Wilson's staff after the departure of D-line coach Jerry Montgomery to Michigan. Diersen came to Indiana from Nebraska, where he had served as an intern.
"We appreciate Brett’s service and wish he and his fiancée Jenna the best," Wilson said in a prepared statement. "We will move forward quickly in making a quality hire that will further strengthen our staff."

Wilson will be replacing at least two assistants from his 2011 staff as co-offensive coordinator Rod Smith left last month to rejoin Rich Rodriguez at Arizona. It will be interesting to see where he turns for the recruiting coordinator post, as defensive recruiting has to be the biggest priority for the Hoosiers right now.
It didn't take long for Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison to realize that repairing Michigan's defense would take more than schematic adjustments and refurbished fundamentals.

The problems went deeper than that. They struck at the core of each player who had suffered through the darkest stretch of defensive football in Michigan history.

Hoke, the Wolverines' first-year head coach, and Mattison, the team's defensive coordinator, inherited defenders whose pride had been wounded.

[+] EnlargeRyan Van Bergen, Mike Martin
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioSeniors Ryan Van Bergen, top, and Mike Martin (68) powered Michigan's improved defense from their positions on the line.
"When we went through spring, maybe the offense does something well or Denard [Robinson] gets loose -- there were some runs that were big plays," Hoke told ESPN.com, "and I don't know if [defenders] didn't have the confidence or if how they practiced was different, but you could see a little bit of a self-defeating attitude."

Mattison tried to clean the slate. He didn't care about the past, so why should his players? But he soon learned that he couldn't ignore what had happened or its effects.

"All you had to do was read papers," Mattison said. "Any comments that ever talked about the Michigan defense always ended with, 'Boy, the defense was not very good.' You can sense that when people look at you, they go, 'Oh boy, they're bad.'

"You don't wish that on anybody that works hard."

Mattison and Hoke had to change attitudes on defense, but they never had to worry about players working hard. While many factors played into Michigan's renaissance on defense this season, perhaps none meant more than the players being fed up with their reputation and hungry to change it.

The result was a defense that improved from 110th nationally to 17th, the biggest one-year jump in college football. Michigan improved from 108th to seventh in points allowed.

Name a significant category -- rush defense (95th to 34th), takeaways (77th to 22nd), red zone defense (87th to fourth), third-down defense (95th to 30th), first downs allowed (107th to 16th), sacks (98th to 27th) -- and Michigan not only made strides, but dramatic ones.

The papers now describe Michigan's defense in a different light. The unit is the single biggest reason why the Wolverines won 10 games this season and returned to a BCS bowl for the first time since the 2006 season. Michigan faces Virginia Tech next Tuesday night in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

"Nobody likes being criticized," safety Jordan Kovacs said. "But at the same time, it made us the defense that we are today."

The coaching staff also played a significant role in the transformation. Hoke and Mattison, defensive assistants at Michigan in the 1990s, knew what Wolverines defense was supposed to look like.

When Hoke hired Mattison away from the NFL's Baltimore Ravens, he didn't have to map out the defensive plan with his coordinator. The two men go way back, to their days as assistants with Western Michigan in the mid-1980s.

"Brady knew he and I thought exactly the same," Mattison said. "It all starts up front, it starts with technique, it starts with running to the football -- all the things great defenses do."

The line became the focal point. Michigan had used three-man fronts for much of the past three seasons, but Mattison restored the base 4-3 set, the one to which senior linemen like Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen had been recruited.

Although Hoke hired a defensive line coach in Jerry Montgomery, both Hoke and Mattison spent much of their time with the front four. Hoke even coached a position, nose guard, setting him apart from most head coaches, who either work with specialists or serve primarily as overseers.

"I'm not one of those head coaches who's going to walk around," Hoke said. "I've hired good assistants, guys who understand how we want to play. I'm smart enough to know where my strengths are. And selfishly as much as anything, I love my time with those guys, coaching defensive line."

The coaches were fortunate that the line, more than any area on defense, featured veterans such as Martin, Van Bergen and end Will Heininger, a walk-on. The three seniors had one final season to make things right, and they played with great urgency.

Michigan's line accounted for 16.5 sacks, 33.5 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and a safety. The Wolverines have 28 sacks through 12 games, 10 more than they had in 13 contests last season.

Michigan's improvements up front helped the rest of the unit.

"There were times last year where you're beat and they'll complete that ball," Kovacs said. "There's times this year where you're beat and you feel like, 'Oh, gosh, please don't throw it.' And the next thing you know, we've got a sack, or [the opposing quarterback] had to check it down because of our pressure from the defensive line and linebackers."

The secondary absorbed most of the criticism for Michigan's defensive woes the past three seasons. A combination of youth, injuries, attrition and flat-out poor play led to repeated breakdowns.

When Mattison arrived, Kovacs remembers him telling the defensive backs, "Keep the ball inside and in front of you. Don't give up the big play. Live to play another down and let these guys in front of you do their jobs." The DBs obliged and several players made significant contributions, including Kovacs, an effective blitzer who recorded eight tackles for loss, four sacks and two forced fumbles.

"It's different, but I can't say I don't like it," he said. "In the first game, there were a couple blitzes I came clean on, and I realized I really like to blitz."

Michigan's defensive awakening can be traced to three areas.

1. Eliminating big plays: According to ESPN Stats & Information, Michigan's defense last season allowed 64 plays of 20 yards or longer (46 passes, 18 rushes). This season, Michigan's defense has allowed only 41 plays of 20 yards or longer (25 passes, 16 rushes). The Wolverines went from 107th nationally in allowing passes of 20 yards or longer to eighth this season.

2. Third-down defense: Michigan ranked 95th nationally last season, allowing conversions at 43.3 percent. Five of eight Big Ten opponents converted more than half of their third downs against the Wolverines. This season, Michigan ranks 30th nationally, allowing conversions at 36.1 percent. Only one Big Ten team, Michigan State, converted half of its third-down attempts against the Wolverines.

3. Takeaways: Last season, Michigan had 19 takeaways, which ranked 77th nationally and eighth in the Big Ten. The Wolverines matched the total in just seven games this fall and finished the regular season with 27 takeaways, tops in the Big Ten and tied for 22nd nationally. They recorded at least one takeaway in all but one game and multiple takeaways in nine contests.

"Those three things," Mattison said, "are what separate defenses."

Michigan's defense separated itself this season despite a lack of star power. The Wolverines feature no first-team All-Big Ten defenders and just one second-team selection in Martin. The starting defense includes two walk-ons (Kovacs and Heininger) and three freshmen (linebackers Jake Ryan and Desmond Morgan and cornerback Blake Countess).

But the components meshed under Mattison's leadership, and after being trashed in print and elsewhere, the Wolverines found a way to write a different conclusion to their story.

"Every man on that defense, especially the older ones, wanted to come out of Michigan being successful," Mattison said. "It's something you have to have been at Michigan to understand. You're judged by how you play when you graduate. You won't get around that. That's been forever, since Bo [Schembechler] was here.

"To see these guys buy in and work as hard as they did, and to have the success they had at times, was probably one of the most rewarding things I've ever had in my coaching career."
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- It didn't take long for Greg Mattison to get the attention of his new players at Michigan.

"Within the first five minutes," Wolverines defensive end Ryan Van Bergen said, "all the guys on the defense bought into him, were going to listen to him and were going to take his criticisms."

Most coaches don't have it so easy. Then again, most coaches don't leave one of the NFL's best defenses to coach one of college football's worst.

Mattison had a pretty good gig as Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator. But when a chance to return to Michigan surfaced, he left Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs and others to oversee a defense that had reached historic lows in the past three seasons. The Wolverines finished 110th nationally in yards allowed (450.8 ypg) and 108th in points allowed (35.2 ppg) in 2010, last in the Big Ten for both categories.

[+] EnlargeMichigan's Greg Mattison
LON HORWEDEL/Icon SMIGreg Mattison came back to Michigan to join Brady Hoke, his "closest friend in the world," in resurrecting the Wolverines.
"I never would have left the Ravens for any job but Michigan and with coach [Brady] Hoke as the head coach," Mattison said.

Mattison had instant credibility among his new players.

Van Bergen lists the Ravens and the Steelers as his favorite pro defenses to watch. Even Michigan offensive players like receiver Darryl Stonum point out Mattison's connection to the Ravens and to recognizable stars like Lewis.

"You'd have to be pretty close-minded to not realize he had something great at Baltimore," Van Bergen said. "He was in a situation he didn't necessarily have to leave ever. For him to come here, to say this program means more to him, it shows he's got an emotional tie to what this program can do. It's not just a job for him. It's a passion."

Mattison doesn't spend much time discussing his time with the Ravens. Instead, he often tells the players about his previous stop at Michigan as an assistant from 1992-96.

He first coached the defensive line before serving as defensive coordinator in his final two seasons. In those two years Michigan held 19 of 25 opponents to 20 points or fewer and never allowed more than 30 points.

Mattison takes over a unit that allowed 34 or more points in nine games last season, hemorrhaging 65 against Illinois and 52 against Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl.

"I don't even think about what’s happened [recently]," Mattison said. "We're here for a reason, and on my side that's to get Michigan defense to a level that's accepted by Michigan defense."

What is that level?

"The winged helmet means excellence," Mattison explained. "It means toughness on defense. It means swarming to the football on defense. It means celebrating together when a good play is made. In our room, it means you don't run the football on that defense. Anything that is your benchmark on defense, that's what the winged helmet stands for because it always has stood for that.

"Nothing aside from being exactly right is acceptable."

Mattison's first step to restoring Michigan's defense takes place up front. He has installed his trademark 4-3 defense, a system he shaped under previous Michigan coaches Gary Moeller and Lloyd Carr and others.

Michigan will use more defensive linemen and most likely bigger defensive linemen than it did in recent seasons, a necessary change after the 2010 season. Size is already a focal point in recruiting.

"When we went against Wisconsin, we were giving up 60 pounds up front," Van Bergen said, referring to a 48-28 loss that Wisconsin closed out with 29 consecutive run plays. "There were teams that outmanned us because of their size. We never overcame that."

The linemen received plenty of attention this spring. Mattison and Hoke, who have both spent most of their coaching careers with the defensive line, spent much of their time working alongside line coach Jerry Montgomery in practice.

"They've got three sets of eyes on them every play," Hoke said. "We ought to be able to be a little more physical at the line of scrimmage."

Other defensive position groups also are responding well to the system.

"I love everything they're bringing in," linebacker J.B. Fitzgerald said. "It feels like Michigan to me."

This spring, Mattison has focused heavily on third downs and red zone performance, two areas where the Wolverines struggled in 2010, ranking 95th and 87th in the nation, respectively. He also stressed finishing plays.

Players are instructed to chase the football on every play, even after the whistle.

"If there's a ball on the ground, even if it's an incomplete pass and Denard [Robinson] overthrows it by 60 yards, all the defensive linemen are running to that football, and we're going to pick it up and bring it into the end zone," Van Bergen said. "[Mattison] emphasizes, 'If you go full speed through the whistle, good things will happen for you.'"

After three years where mostly bad things happened, Michigan's defenders, especially seniors like Van Bergen and Fitzgerald, are ready for a change.

"Those seniors on defense have heard enough about where we've been," Hoke said. "They have a lot of pride. When you have that kind of pride, you want to be accountable to the team and to the tradition of playing defense here."

Notes from Schembechler Hall

April, 13, 2011
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- It has been a productive day here on Michigan's campus as I visited with new Wolverines head coach Brady Hoke, coordinators Greg Mattison (defense) and Al Borges (offense), Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Denard Robinson and others.

I enjoyed re-connecting with Hoke, who remembered me from my early ESPN.com freelancer days as we visited on the Mid-American Conference weekly coaches' calls. The new coach seems to be well received by his new players and most Michigan alumni, but as he knows better than anyone, he needs to win games to maintain the good will.

A few notes before I make the drive north to Sparta:

    [+] EnlargeDenard Robinson
    Andrew Weber/US PresswireMichigan will continue to use Denard Robinson as a rushing quarterback.
  • Robinson is aware of the need to stay on the field this fall, but he'll be fighting his natural aggressiveness at times. The quarterback never felt seriously injured last season, though he was banged up enough to miss stretches in several games. "That's something I have to start doing, just going out of bounds, sliding, which I don't like doing," Robinson said. Sliding? Robinson hasn't been practicing it this spring, and Borges isn't going to keep his quarterback from doing what he does best. "I can tell him to [slide], and he won't do it anyway," Borges said. "We're still going to be very running quarterback oriented. We still have maintained anywhere from five to seven plays in our offense that still feature the quarterback as a runner."
  • So "Shoelace" -- who was unlaced during our interview Wednesday -- will still be on the move this fall, but Michigan wants to put more of the rushing load on its running backs. No position group could be impacted more by Borges' offense than the backs. Borges made it clear that he wants a bell cow in the backfield, but none has created separation this spring. And while Michigan wants to have a downhill running attack this fall, the coaches don't necessarily need a prototypical power back to carry the rock. That's good news for a guy like Vincent Smith, who checks in at 5-6, 180. "They don't give you any more yards because you weigh 20 more pounds," Borges said. "Whoever can gain the yards is the guy who will play. We're cognizant of how big they are, but when we watch video of high school backs, the thing we're interested in, assuming they're not teeny, is if they can gain yards. If they look like they can break tackles and make people miss in the open field and have some acceleration, size is important but secondary to that."
  • One area where size matters -- both this season and in future recruiting -- is along both lines. Michigan needs to get bigger up front, especially along the defensive front, to hold its own in the Big Ten. Defensive end Ryan Van Bergen told me that several Big Ten teams "outmanned us because of their size." Having an extra defensive lineman on the field this fall should help -- defensive tackle Will Campbell, at 335 pounds, will beef up the front -- but Michigan is definitely trending toward bigger players. "There's some body composition that we've got to continue to change and strength gains that we need to make," Hoke said. "On both sides of the ball, that will be an emphasis in this year's [recruiting] class."
  • It's hardly a secret that Hoke spends most of his time in practice with the defense, and specifically the linemen. "It's important," he said, "and it also is my sanity because I'm a teacher, first and foremost, and love to teach the game." The linemen aren't starved for attention this spring with Hoke, Mattison and D-line coach Jerry Montgomery attending to them. "I have 38 years of coaching and 28 of them are defensive line," Mattison said. "Brady's coached defensive line 28 years, I think, and Jerry Montgomery is an excellent young defensive line coach."
  • Some of the players recognized by the coaches for their spring performances include cornerbacks Courtney Avery and Greg Brown, safety Carvin Johnson, linebackers Cam Gordon and J.B. Fitzgerald, and wide receivers Roy Roundtree, Darryl Stonum and Junior Hemingway. Both Borges and Hoke really like what they have at receiver, and Borges noted that Roundtree has really stood out this spring.

The strongest theme that came across Wednesday was Michigan getting back to its roots. Whether it's stressing rivalry games with "Ohio" -- Hoke isn't the only one who leaves off "State" -- or embracing the defensive tradition or reflecting the values Hoke and Mattison saw here in the 1990s, Michigan players and coaches sense a need to re-establish their identity.

I'll have more Michigan coverage later this week and especially early next week, so stay tuned.
Valentine's Day is about love, but it's also about heartbreak.

Every Big Ten team has felt a little heartbreak from time to time, whether it's a coach leaving for another position, a recruit choosing another college destination or key players veering off track.

Here are some heartbreakers for Big Ten squads:

1. Ohio State's Tat 5: Quarterback Terrelle Pryor and four of his teammates broke some Buckeye fans' hearts by selling memorabilia, including Big Ten championship rings and Gold Pants, for cash and tattoos. The "Tat 5" helped themselves with their Sugar Bowl performances and their pledge to return for their senior seasons, but their absence for the first part of the 2011 season could sting.

2. Brent Pease, Jerry Montgomery, Corey Raymond and Jemal Singleton: All four assistants joined Kevin Wilson's new staff at Indiana but soon bolted for other jobs. Montgomery (Michigan) and Raymond (Nebraska) left for other posts within the Big Ten. Ouch.

3. Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Adam Robinson: Iowa's all-time leading receiver and top running back the past two seasons both missed the Insight Bowl following December arrests. DJK, who had an extremely productive career in Iowa City, is trying to restore his rep before the NFL draft. Robinson wants another chance at Iowa but right now it looks like a long shot.

4. Tate Forcier: After an encouraging season on the field, the Michigan backup quarterback was ruled academically ineligible right before the Gator Bowl. It proved to be the end for Forcier, who last week transferred to Miami.

5. Jacoby Brissett: Wisconsin held a scholarship spot for the quarterback recruit, but he didn't even have the Badgers in his final two choices (Miami and Florida). Brissett ended up signing with the Gators.
As expected, Michigan coach Brady Hoke completed his staff Monday by announcing the hiring of two defensive assistants: Jerry Montgomery (defensive line) and Curt Mallory (secondary).

Mongtomery and Mallory join linebackers coach Mark Smith and coordinator Greg Mattison in the effort to rebuild Michigan's defense in 2011.
"Curt and Jerry are exceptional teachers and will help our young men develop both on the football field and in the community,” said Hoke. “They are a great fit for our defensive staff and will work very well with Greg [Mattison] and Mark [Smith]. This group will work tirelessly to make the defensive effort what we expect at Michigan."

Montgomery, a former defensive lineman at Iowa, took a position on Kevin Wilson's staff at Indiana last month, but soon left to join Michigan. He has coached defensive line at Wyoming (2009-10) and Northern Iowa (2007-08).

Mallory, who played at Michigan, has been a defensive coordinator for the past four seasons, working with Illinois' defense from 2007-09 before moving to Akron last fall. He has spent his entire coaching career in the Midwest.

Although all of Michigan's defensive assistants will face challenges, Mallory really has his work cut out for him. Michigan's secondary endured a wave of misfortune and calamity in 2010, although the Wolverines regain the services of veteran cornerback Troy Woolfolk and others this fall.

Mallory's recent work hasn't been too impressive, but he mentored several standout defensive backs at Illinois, including cornerback Vontae Davis, and oversaw a productive defense in 2007 when Illinois reached the Rose Bowl.

Big Ten assistant coach updates

February, 7, 2011
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Several Big Ten teams are still filling out their staffs for 2011, and we'll hear an official announcement or two later Monday.

Here's a roundup of what's been happening the last few days:

INDIANA

The Hoosiers on Friday announced the hiring of Brandon Shelby as cornerbacks coach. Shelby, who previously held the same position at Louisiana-Monroe, starred as a defensive back at Oklahoma during IU coach Kevin Wilson's time there and also served as a Sooners' defensive assistant in 2006. Shelby replaces Corey Raymond, who left Indiana to take a position at Nebraska. Although Nebraska hasn't made an official announcement about Raymond, he's expected to replace secondary coach Marvin Sanders, who resigned Thursday.

Indiana also last week hired Nebraska defensive assistant Brett Diersen as defensive tackles coach and Air Force running backs coach Jemal Singleton to the same position. Diersen replaces Jerry Montgomery, who Wilson said left for a position at Michigan.

These appointments complete Wilson's staff for 2011.

NEBRASKA

So far, Sanders' resignation is the only official announcement Bo Pelini has made about his staff. But Wilson said Raymond is on his way to Lincoln, and all signs point to offensive coordinator Shawn Watson and receivers coach Ted Gilmore being on their way out. Nebraska's offensive production dipped toward the end of the 2010 season, and the Huskers' receivers had an up-and-down year.

Multiple media reports from Nebraska state that Pelini might be targeting Oregon receivers coach Scott Frost, the former Huskers' star quarterback, and Notre Dame offensive line coach Ed Warinner as replacements. Warinner served as Kansas' offensive coordinator from 2007-09 and spent time in the Big Ten as Illinois' offensive line coach and run game coordinator from 2005-06.

The interesting part of this is Pelini reportedly will hand over play-calling duties to running backs coach Tim Beck. The Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha World-Herald both report that Frost might not leave Oregon unless it's for a job as a play-caller elsewhere.

Pelini seems to be reshaping his staff before Nebraska's jump to the Big Ten. It will be fascinating to see how things play out in Lincoln.

MICHIGAN

Coach Brady Hoke will finalize his staff Monday and announce the defensive assistants to join coordinator Greg Mattison.

Montgomery is on his way to Ann Arbor, and he'll reportedly be joined by Akron defensive coordinator Curt Mallory on the Michigan staff. Expect Mallory to coach the Wolverines' secondary, while Montgomery will work with the defensive line. Mallory played at Michigan and has spent his entire coaching career in the Midwest, serving as Illinois' secondary coach and co-defensive coordinator from 2007-09. Montgomery played at Iowa and most recently served as Wyoming's defensive line coach.

MICHIGAN STATE

After promoting Dan Roushar to offensive coordinator last week, Mark Dantonio reportedly has found the final member of his staff.

According to The (Mount Pleasant) Morning Sun, Central Michigan receivers coach Terry Samuel has left to take the same position on Michigan State's staff. Samuel, who played wide receiver at Purdue, worked his way up through the FCS ranks before joining former Dantonio assistant Dan Enos at Central Michigan last year.

He'll coach the position group that previous Michigan State offensive coordinator Don Treadwell oversaw. Samuel inherits a deep and talented receiving corps led by B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin.

WISCONSIN

The Badgers lost a key assistant over the weekend as running backs coach John Settle departed for the same position with the Carolina Panthers. Settle did an outstanding job with Wisconsin's running backs, helping to mold standout players like P.J. Hill, John Clay, James White and Montee Ball.

Although Wisconsin always recruits talented backs, Settle leaves some big shoes to fill. It will be interesting to see who coach Bret Bielema hires as his replacement.

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