Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Mattison's mission: Restore Michigan D
By Adam Rittenberg
When Greg Mattison first met with his new Michigan players, he talked about the old days.
Mattison didn't dig up Wolverines game film from the mid-1990s, when he served as the team's defensive line coach and defensive coordinator. He didn't bring back Jarrett Irons, Jason Horn or Ty Law to talk to the group.
If the players needed a link to the past, they only had to look at the man in the center of the room. A man who spent five years as a Michigan assistant and says of former Wolverines coaches Gary Moeller and Lloyd Carr: "They’re the ones who really taught me defense."
Greg Mattison spent last season with the Baltimore Ravens. He wants to spend next season getting Michigan back on track.
Mattison was the perfect person to provide a little history lesson.
"That’s the way I started the meeting out," Mattison recently told ESPN.com. "I told them, ‘Fifteen years ago, I was in this meeting room. And the pride and the passion that was played on defense from the guys in this room was second to none. Forever, they’ve done that. If you’re going to be a defensive player who sits in this room, you have to embrace that.
"'You have to now understand that’s what Michigan football is all about.'"
But a Michigan defense with a strong track record veered off track the past three seasons.
Mattison takes over a unit that ranked 110th, 82nd and 67th nationally in yards allowed during the previous coaching regime. The Wolverines ranked 108th, 77th and 84th nationally in points allowed. The unit wasn't old enough, deep enough or good enough to stop teams in Big Ten play.
Given the gory results, you couldn't blame Mattison for not wanting to look back at the recent performance. That was his plan, at first.
"I made a concerted effort when I came in here to say, 'I’m not going to watch it,'" he said. "What I wanted to do is give these players the benefit of the doubt and not to even talk about what’s happened in the past. Those were good coaches here. I’m never going to second-guess guys who were here before."
But after watching the players go through winter conditioning, Mattison changed his mind. As he got to know who the players were, he decided to check out how they played.
"I saw a lot of guys that had great effort," he said. "I saw a lot of guys that might have been a little young. I saw a lot of guys that might have been not as strong as they should be. And you see technique things. People who watch the [Baltimore] Ravens could see the same things about my defenses."
Mattison will shape Michigan's defense like so many others he has overseen.
The Wolverines will use a four-man front. Mattison's top three priorities are stopping the run, limiting big plays and "being great" in the red zone. He'll stress effort, emotion and technique.
The system will be simple yet effective.
"What happens sometimes when you overload your defense because maybe you don’t have enough players or maybe they’re light or undersized, people in the Big Ten will get you sooner or later," Mattison said. "There are great coaches in this league, so if you think you’re going to come in and totally out-coach them with scheme, you’re totally wrong. They’re going to get you."
Watching tape from 2010 didn't discourage Mattison -- just the opposite.
"It helped me because in a lot of ways, I felt even stronger about what our mission is here," he said. "I felt like, ‘Listen, we can get these guys to get back to that.’ I felt good about it. It probably drove me more the next day in running to make these guys step up to that level. Because they have it. It’s our job to get it out of them.”