Greg Mattison: 'Hardest thing' about leaving Michigan was telling players

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Greg Mattison

Columbus, Ohio — Former Michigan defensive line coach Greg Mattison, who spent 13 seasons in two stays on the Wolverines’ football staff, said the most difficult part of leaving for rival Ohio State was sharing the news with his players.

Mattison, 69, said he could not pass up the opportunity to be a defensive coordinator again and was given that opportunity by new Ohio State coach Ryan Day. Mattison is co-coordinator with Jeff Hafley. He made his first public comments since his departure from Michigan last month during Ohio State’s signing day news conference Wednesday.

After Day approached Mattison last month about the co-coordinator position, Mattison said he then spoke to Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. Mattison had been defensive coordinator at Michigan when Brady Hoke became head coach in 2011. Harbaugh kept Mattison on staff when he became head coach in 2015 but moved him to defensive line coach.

“Coach Day called, I can’t remember the date, but approached me on the job then obviously I went and talked to the head football coach (Harbaugh),” Mattison said Wednesday. “Coach Harbaugh was great, OK. He understood I wanted to coordinate and it was an opportunity to be a coordinator, and that was what I wanted to do. Not much you’re going to do about that.

“The hardest thing, probably, was calling the players. And again, it’s been hard everywhere you’re ever at because of what you give those players and what they give you. But that’s part of life. If you’re working for IBM or somebody like that, someday you have to call somebody and say you’re going somewhere else. It’s the same thing. It’s hard. It’s always hard.”

This is not the first time Mattison has left for a rival. He moved to Notre Dame after the 1996 season at Michigan. He was asked Wednesday if there was anything particularly difficult about leaving the Wolverines after 13 seasons to go to their arch rival and whether Ohio State fans would embrace him.

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“I can’t control what the Ohio State fans think,” Mattison said. “The only thing I can tell you that they will see in watching me coach, they’re going to see me giving everything I can to this program. They’re going to see that I will always try to coach the players the best they can possibly be coached. How they perceive it and what they do, that’s up to them.

“As far as the rivalry and as far that, it’s always hard. When you leave people you’ve been with for 13 years, when you leave people – any job – one thing about college football, when you leave one program and go to another, that’s one of the hardest things there is. You were giving everything you have to those players. You are in every minute with them trying to make them the best you can be; that’s the way I’ve always been as a coach. I’ve always tried to say, ‘I’m going to give you everything I can to make you the best you can be, now you have to give it back.’ It’s always difficult.”

Mattison stressed that rivalry aside, it’s always difficult to change jobs.

“I don’t know if it’s different or not,” Mattison said when asked if it’s different going from UM to OSU. “I know one thing, when I left at one time and went to Notre Dame, that was a hard deal. When I left Notre Dame and went to Florida, that was a hard deal. One thing I can always say, I’ve never been one of those guys that said, ‘Boy, I want to do a good job here so I can go there.’ I’ve thought I was going to stay every place I’ve been for my whole love. Nothing’s changed that way.”

Mattison is an important addition to Day’s staff in terms of recruiting, as well. Kerry Coombs had been a force for Ohio State recruiting in the state of Michigan but he is now in the NFL.

Allen Trieu, who handles Midwest recruiting for 247Sports, said Mattison is already working hard to secure recruits for the Buckeyes, particularly making his presence known, albeit wearing different school colors, in Michigan.

“A lot of what he’s been doing on the road is underclassmen recruiting,” Trieu said. “He’s well-received around the state of Michigan. He’s been around to the schools both on the east and west side of the state and brought Ryan Day to a number of those schools.

“I think that was important to Ohio State. They had a really good recruiter in Michigan, Kerry Coombs. When he left, they maybe took a little bit of a hit, and now with Mattison there I think he’s definitely going to up their recruiting in Michigan again. That was a pretty clear indication to of their philosophy with Mattison and their recruiting philosophy of the first couple of weeks, to be on the road, and they’re in Michigan a bunch. I thought that was a pretty clear signal to Michigan and Michigan State that we’re going up here.”


Twitter: @chengelis