'Coaching football's an addiction': Mike DeBord embarks on third stint at Michigan
Mike DeBord spent much of the last year, day after day, breaking down NFL film, making cut-ups, studying the game and gaining knowledge.
But DeBord was no longer in coaching. He had spent a good portion of his career at Michigan, and then in the NFL with the Seahawks and Bears before returning to college football at Tennessee and then taking over as Indiana offensive coordinator. He retired from football after the 2018 season, but a brief return to coaching with former Bears coach Mike Martz on his San Diego Fleet staff of the now-defunct Alliance of American Football, sparked his coaching instincts.
The league didn’t last long, and DeBord, 64, was back, his love for football reignited.
“Football to me, coaching football's an addiction,” DeBord told The Detroit News. “You've got to be addicted to it. And when I say coaching I'm talking about with the players, with the coaches, recruiting, the game — it's an addiction. I was addicted to it and so all of a sudden you go all those years and now you're gonna say you're not gonna do it? I applaud those guys who can do that.
“It's hard. It was hard, so I just kept studying and I kept looking at things, plays, techniques, and I just continued to do it. I couldn't get rid of it. I couldn't push it to the side and say, ‘The heck with it. I'm done.’ I had a hard time doing that.”
At the invitation of New Orleans coach Sean Payton, DeBord spent a week last summer observing the Saints meetings and practices. He returned home and started breaking down NFL film
“Then the fall came, and you can’t fish every minute of the day, so I started studying football, studying football, studying football,” DeBord said. “I was studying football 24/7, like all the time, and then it got into the winter, October, November, December, and I was still studying football. I was making cut-ups and all that, and I'm like, ‘What is this all good for?'"
DeBord and his wife, Deb, never gave up their house in Saline or their nearby lake house, because they knew they’d always return to this area. After all, DeBord spent 12 years coaching with Lloyd Carr at Michigan, his longest coaching tenure anywhere, and in 2013 was hired as a sports administrator for Michigan’s Olympic teams. This had become home, and it is again.
Earlier this year, DeBord met with Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh to discuss a position on the Wolverines’ staff as an offensive analyst.
“We talked for about an hour, and after that we were shaking hands,” DeBord said.
Now, all that time reviewing film and making cut-ups has a purpose for Michigan’s offensive analyst.
“I always loved the meetings and the coaching on the field — that’s why you coach,” DeBord said. “I would say this is taking care of a part of me. I told Jim when I came to talk to him, ‘I love Michigan. I love Michigan football,’ and I have great respect for him. I just told him if there's anything I can do to help in any way, then I'd be glad to do that. That's all I want to do is be there to help if I'm needed.”
As an analyst, DeBord isn’t working hands-on with the players, but in his role, he works with offensive coordinator Josh Gattis and offensive line coach Ed Warinner. DeBord was offensive line coach at Michigan 1992-1996, then became offensive coordinator in 1997, the year the Wolverines’ won a national championship, until 2000 when he took over as Central Michigan head coach. He returned to Michigan in 2004 through 2007, after which Carr retired.
DeBord will also assist during the season with game planning.
“When I first came in, Josh Gattis wanted me to go through every game and whatever I saw, make points of it and give it to him,” DeBord said. “As we've gone through, we've had different projects and I had short-yardage, I had low-red, had goal-line, had screens, stuff like that. I actually went through and studied those and what was good and what we need to improve upon, things like that.
“This isn't something new. It's something that you do every year in football, and I'm just fortunate to be there to do it. Nothing out of the ordinary that way, but just continuing to help in any way, any role that I might.”
DeBord also is working with Warinner, who must replace four starting offensive linemen this season, and will handle any projects he assigns. Warinner is entering his third season as offensive line coach.
"I love offensive line play, and Ed does a great job of coaching them," DeBord said.
Gattis is entering his second season as offensive coordinator. He arrived at Michigan last year after a year as co-offensive coordinator Alabama.
“Sometimes Josh may say, ‘Do you ever run this play? Did you ever do this? How'd you do it?’ things like that,” he said. “I've got great respect for Josh and all the coaches there and I just really try to listen and if I'm asked something I'll give my opinion.
“Josh has some different things that I haven't been around, so it's been fun to listen to the teaching of that, and just go to work. It’s been so much fun that way. I've learned some things from all positions that some guys do different. It’s been really rewarding just continuing to learn more ball.”
The Michigan offensive staff meets daily over Zoom calls while at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. DeBord is learning the Michigan system, the installs, plays and terminology. In other words, he’s in football nirvana, absorbing as much as he can.
“I don't know if I've ever been around a guy that kind of settled into what he knows, and he didn't want to learn anymore,” DeBord said. “I've always been around the guys that want to continue to learn more football. I just have always loved to learn more football, and there's so much to learn. There's so many plays and the little wrinkles here and there. They're always something new, and one of the things that thrills me about football is just learning more.”
DeBord is back in coaching, and back at Michigan. Could he see being an on-field coach again somewhere? The question was met with hearty laughter.
“I’m afraid my wife will read this, so I don’t know,” DeBord said, still laughing. “I guess when I retired, I said, ‘I'm retiring, but if something comes along that I cannot pass up, then I'm gonna do it.’ So that's the way we've kind of left it, and that's the way I’ll leave it.”