Greg Mattison's move spices up Michigan vs. Ohio State rivalry even more

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh this spring said Greg Mattison is off his Christmas card list.

Chris Partridge, the Wolverines’ safeties coach and special teams coordinator, said he has “no desire” to speak to the Wolverines’ former defensive line coach.

Aidan Hutchinson, a sophomore defensive end, retweeted a video of Mattison referring to Michigan as “the team up north” and included this message: “Oh, so it’s like that,” along with two snake emojis.

Mattison’s offense? He left Michigan to join arch-rival Ohio State to make nearly twice the salary as co-defensive coordinator on first-year coach Ryan Day’s staff.

Greg Mattison

Perhaps, as people say, time heals all wounds, but in the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry, this cut runs deep. Mattison and Al Washington, who coached linebackers for a season at Michigan, were hired by Day at the start of the year. Washington, it seems, got a pass. After all, his father played for the Buckeyes and he was raised in Columbus.

But Mattison’s departure generated a more visceral response from the Wolverines.

“I wouldn’t say shocked; I was surprised, yeah,” Harbaugh said before the start of spring practice. “Darn near doubled his salary. I don’t hold that against him.

“We’re not going to be sending each other Christmas cards based on where he went. That’s how I feel and understand it. Still a good man. Still have a ton of respect for him, and we’ll be friends again someday when we’re done coaching.”

It is the week of The Game, the annual meeting of the archrivals, Michigan and Ohio State. The teams will play Saturday at noon at Michigan Stadium, and the Wolverines will try to reach 10 wins this season by snapping a seven-game losing streak to the Buckeyes. Ohio State has won 14 of the last 15 in the rivalry.

There are plenty of story lines to dissect this week, but Mattison’s departure from Michigan to Ohio State — and to a much lesser extent, Washington leaving — lingers.

Day said Tuesday at his news conference that Mattison and Washington have been busy preparing the defense for the upcoming game and suggested this hasn't been a topic of discussion.

"I'm sure there's a range of emotions and certainly when we get on the bus and head up there, there will be even more,” Day said. “But it’s just one of those things that’s part of the job. You work through it.

“They’ll be really professional about it. They know there’s a lot riding on this game, and they want to do great for their players and for their families. But I’m sure there’s a lot of emotions going on there.”

Day told reporters he did not hire them because of their experiences at Michigan and what they could bring in terms of building a game plan for the Wolverines, but because of his relationships with them.

“No, the major attraction was I knew both of them very well,” Day said. “My whole plan was when I have an opportunity to have my first coaching staff, everybody in that room I trusted to have my back when things maybe didn’t go so well. That was it. It just so happened to be that it was against the school up north. And I know sometimes that’s hard to swallow, but that’s what it was.”

Carlo Kemp

Michigan defensive tackle Carlo Kemp answered a question about Mattison on Monday and he offered an even, skilled non-answer answer that revealed a few things if you read between the lines.

“Nothing really changes,” Kemp said Monday. “They've got very good coaches, but at the same time, we've got very good coaches. And everybody in our meeting room and everybody that's been with us since January, since camp, since spring ball, they've been working for this and have been thinking about this game.

“It's a huge opportunity and everybody in there is ready to go, and being able to be a part of this with the coaches I have in my room and the coaches that I have every day in practice — going out there and playing for them. That's what gets you excited to play in this game, being able to go out there and do this with everybody that's been here. Ready to go for this game.”

Linebacker Khaleke Hudson, like Kemp a co-captain, was diplomatic in his response about Mattison and Washington leaving Michigan for Ohio State.

“Ultimately, it's their life. It's their decision,” Hudson said. “I don't hold anything against them. They decided to go there, they had to make decisions for themselves and their families.

“I've got nothing but the utmost respect for both of those guys, and it's going to be good. It's going to feel good playing against them. They went to Ohio State, and I'm not really focused on that. I'm focused on what the team's going to do, how we're going to practice, and how we're going to prepare to get a victory on Saturday.”

Mattison hasn’t spoken much about his departure from Michigan and was not available for an interview heading into this game, per Ohio State.

He told reporters during a Signing Day news conference in February that leaving Michigan was a “very tough decision.” Mattison said that while he spent 13 seasons at Michigan covering two coaching stints – he departed after the 1996 season for Notre Dame – he had spent 19 of the previous 24 years coordinating and wanted to pursue that again.

Hutchinson has been the most vocal of the Wolverines regarding Mattison’s departure. Mattison coached Hutchinson’s father, Chris, during his final season at Michigan in the early 1990s, and has known Aidan since he was 10 years old.

Aidan Hutchinson, when asked after the spring game about his tweet regarding Mattison, didn’t hold back.

“You get a big feeling of betrayal,” Hutchinson said at the time. “He told me he’s either retiring or he’s renewing his contract, so I’m like, ‘Oh, OK.’ I found out he’s leaving, I’m like, ‘Oh, OK, whatever.’ He said Ohio State and that kinda makes your stomach turn a little bit. He taught me a lot, I’m not taking that away from him, but it gives you a different mindset on things. I wouldn’t mind if he went to any other school. But this (crap) kind of hurts.”

Chris Hutchinson recently joined The Detroit News’ "View from the Press Box" podcast and suggested it could be emotionally charged when the Michigan defensive linemen who played for Mattison see him for the first time across the field on Saturday. Aidan Hutchinson is undoubtedly one of the Wolverines’ most fiery players.

“Honestly, I’m a little bit concerned he’s going to be too emotional for the game,” Chis Hutchinson said on the podcast. “I could honestly see him making a play and being on the sideline and getting a penalty for taunting Mattison. That’s how feverish he is about what happened.

“Mix that in with Ohio State. Clearly (defensive coordinator) Don’s (Brown) going to have to talk to these kids about it, because it’s going to be -- this year’s going to be a very unique game for these kids. We’re not even 12 months removed and he’s going to be on the other sideline. It’s going to be very interesting to see how these kids handle this.”

Chris Partridge

Partridge also is a fiery coach on the sideline and often when speaking to reporters. In the spring, he said the 62-39 loss at Ohio State last year had lasting effects. Then topped off with the departures of Mattison and Washington, he said he was extremely motivated for this season’s Michigan-Ohio State game.

“I want to be candid, those guys (Mattison and Washington) left, and it was another shot, and it wasn’t OK,” Partridge said.

He expressed how he and the defense felt like they had been hit in their mouths last season in Columbus and he vowed “to coach harder than I ever imagined I could coach, I’m going to be more aggressive than I have ever have been before. We’re going to try to make sure that scoreboard never looks like it did last year.”

Partridge was then asked if he had any desire to speak to either coach who left for the Buckeyes.

“No desire. No desire at all,” he said. “I’m not the kind of guy that’s going to reach out or anything like that. I’ve been here going into my fifth year, I consider myself an alumni at Michigan, just like someone goes four years and graduates. I’m here, I’m Michigan, I’m Go Blue all the way, so I don’t have a desire.”

Ohio State at Michigan

Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor

TV/radio: Fox/950 AM

Records: Michigan 9-2, 6-2 Big Ten; Ohio State 11-0, 8-0

Line: Ohio State by 10