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Mattison fitting in and happy to be staying at Michigan

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Greg Mattison spent the last four seasons coordinating Michigan's defense, and now, as part of new coach Jim Harbaugh's staff, he is handling the defensive line.

Mattison said he had other opportunities to coach, some in the NFL, when former head coach Brady Hoke was fired last December, but has felt settled here in this program.

"I made up my mind if I had the opportunity I'd love to stay, so I stayed," Mattison said.

D.J. Durkin is now the defensive coordinator, but Mattison, who met with reporters after practice on Thursday, said he is happy in his more specialized role.

"I really respect the guys I'm working with," Mattison said. "I've done that (coordinating a defense) for so long that sometimes you say, it's kind of enjoyable to take these four guys and see how good they can be.

"I knew when Jim hired me, there's only one coordinator, and what he says we do, and once you get that, you say, 'OK, my job now is to coordinate the defensive line and to do a great job with that.' I've done it so long and have had so many opportunities to do it, it's about really seeing how good we can get this team."

Mattison does not think of himself as a coaching liason between the players and new staff. The players, he said, were mature enough to make the transition, and undoubtedly, this staff, heavy on NFL experience, knows how to adjust and evaluate players quickly.

But defensive backs coach Greg Jackson, who previously coached on Harbaugh's San Francisco 49ers staff, said Mattison's knowledge of the defensive personnel has been invaluable.

"When we got here, he told us about each and every player, and he was dead on," Jackson said Thursday. "I picked his brain about each and every guy, and he was dead on about each and every guy. He's been valuable."

Mattison said he likes the direction of the defense under the high-energy, 37-year-old Durkin. The two have known each other for years, having worked together years ago at Notre Dame when Durkin was a graduate assistant. A few years ago while Durkin was defensive coordinator at Florida, Mattison paid a visit to see the types of things the Gators were working on defensively.

"It's exciting because you see some of the things we're doing," Mattison said. "The kids are more experienced, picking it up. It's exciting to see it moving forward, and it's exciting to see the kids getting really coached and the kids wanting to be coached."

He would not commit to whether Michigan is moving to more of a 3-4 on defense.

"We're exploring everything," he said. "We did that last year. We ran that last year. What we're doing on defense is seeing what scheme fits the players we have, so we're pretty broad."

Coordinating a defense requires a broader approach. What Mattison appreciate about his new role is how specific it is to a position group.

He has coached defensive line for as long as he can remember, and there's a sense he feels he can be more impactful teaching in a smaller classroom setting, and, conversely, he can see the results more quickly.

"You can get guys to be better," Mattison said. "You can make improvements there through technique and hard work."

While pass rushers won't emerge until closer to the start of the season, or even in-season, Mattison said he is pleased right now with the play at nose guard. He said Ryan Glasgow, Bryan Mone and Maurice Hurst are doing a "really, really good job."

Mattison, 65, has said he wanted to make Michigan his last coaching stop. This is the third head coach for whom he has worked here, including Lloyd Carr.

"I feel very fortunate to be able to stay at Michigan," Mattison said. "I love Michigan. I feel very strongly about the players coming back and the guys in this program, and I feel very strongly about coach Harbaugh. I've known that family for a long time. It's just great to be back."

Working with another Harbaugh

Mattison was defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens under John Harbaugh before coming to Michigan in 2011 with Hoke.

And now he's working for Jim Harbaugh.

"He's just a very sharp coach, really intelligent," Mattison said of Jim Harbaugh. "Very demanding, he's very business-like. You don't win 49 games in the NFL in three years and not be a great coach, and he's always been that. You don't do what he did at Stanford and not be a great coach."

Much of the Harbaugh staff has NFL coaching experience, and Mattison said that shows in the efficiency of the staff to change when needed.

"When there's a lot of experience in a coaching staff, you can make adjustments very easy and be able to teach it," Mattison said. "Sometimes what happens if you don't have a lot of experience, when there's adjustments that have to be made you have to teach the coaches first and they have to teach the players. This staff is so experienced, they've done that."

Follow, and he will win

Jackson was an assistant secondary coach with the 49ers from 2011-2014. He made the move to Michigan, because he's confident Harbaugh will be successful.

"We just knew to follow Jim, we'll win, because Jim has a great track record," Jackson said Thursday. "He's brought some coaches along. All the coaches jell together quickly. It's been great."

He played safety in the NFL and was even a teammate with fellow safety Mike Zordich, also a defensive backs coach with the Wolverines. Jackson will coach the safeties and Zordich the cornerbacks. Jackson said he's not handling his college players any differently than his NFL players.

"Everything's been the same," Jackson said. "You just don't have them as long. In the pros you can have them from 9 to 5. Here you can't do that. That's what I miss, but it's been great so far."

achengelis@detroitnews.com

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