UM’s Tyrone Wheatley happy son outgrew running back

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — As Tyrone Wheatley watched his sons grow, he was hopeful they would continue to get bigger.

But when Tyrone Jr. — his nickname is T.J. — was starting to play football well in high school, his father hoped his body would grow out of the potential to play his position, running back.

“In all honestly, I was happy when he hit his growth spurt,” said Wheatley Sr., the former Michigan running back, 10-year NFL veteran and former college and NFL assistant who is on Jim Harbaugh’s staff at Michigan, coaching running backs. “It got to the point with all my (three) boys, I wanted them to play defense. Go play defense.”

T.J.’s growth spurt landed him at 6-foot-6 and 260 pounds — father was 6-0, 235 at Michigan — and is a freshman tight end for the Wolverines.

Freshmen players were not available at media day, but Wheatley Sr. spoke for both, saying he is enjoying being at Michigan with his son. He also said his son didn’t choose Michigan for the wrong reasons.

Wheatley Sr., who played at Michigan from 1991-94, was a three-time all-Big Ten selection and the 1992 Big Ten offensive player of the year and was named MVP of the Rose Bowl after that season.

“That was what I stressed the most because it is tough,” Wheatley said. “I wouldn’t know what it felt like because I didn’t have to follow in anyone’s shoes. It was his deal, it was his decision, and I wanted it to be his 100 percent. As a dad, years down the road, I never wanted to sit down with him (and hear him say), ‘Hey, I made a terrible decision based on what you felt was right.’

“T.J. is a very, very bright young man.”

Because Wheatley has coached in college, most recently at Syracuse, he said T.J. has a feel for what to expect this fall on every level — academics, on the field and film study.

“He’s been in meeting rooms before, he’s been around college football before, so he has an idea,” Wheatley said. “He embraces it and he’s taken well to it.”

Wheatley said T.J. has come to him for advice since reporting at Michigan. He has answered questions and they’ve talked through different things.

There can be a level of discomfort for a coach watching his son getting chewed out by another coach during practice, but Wheatley said that won’t be an issue. He plans to stay out of that part of his son’s life.

“T.J., growing up, I never coached him,” Wheatley said. “I would take him to other people. I would pay for him to get weight trained and for people to train him. The only thing I really did was speed and agility, and that was our time to have father-son time.”

Instead, Wheatley entrusted his son to the coaches without his intervention. He actually would intervene at times — to tell them to coach T.J. harder.

“I wanted other people to coach him, I wanted other people to yell at him,” Wheatley said. “Most of his high school coaches, I would get on his coaches, not because of the playing time my son received, because if a coach said hey you played a great game, and I said it was terrible, I was on the coach.

“The coach would laugh, and he’d say, ‘You know what? That’s the first time a parent has come to me and said coach my kid harder.’

“I was trying to prepare him for this. ... For me, sometimes as a dad, my expectations as a father may go far beyond those of a coach. Some of the coaches may have to tell me, ‘Calm down.’ But, at the end of the day, I cut the cord. I believe and trust in (position) coach Jay Harbaugh. That’s T.J.’s coach, and coach Harbaugh will coach him.”