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Coach J and Co.: Why Fred Jackson has stayed Michigan's running backs coach for the past two decades

By Michael Florek, Daily Sports Editor
Published September 15, 2011

“I had opportunities to coach in the NFL numerous amounts of time,” Jackson said. “I mean like eight, nine times and I didn’t go because I wanted to coach here.”

In the most unstable of professions, the Jacksons found stability. They had bought a house in Ann Arbor. Jeremy, the oldest son of Jackson and his second wife, Teresa, was growing up. Josh came along. The wife was happy. The kids were happy. Jackson was at the only college he had every wanted to coach at.

But the allure remained. This was the highest level, the top of the coaching ladder. Could Jackson start all over, leaving his house and family all over again to chase another objective?

No. He was going to be there for Jeremy and Josh.

“I think he wants to coach in the NFL,” Fred Jr. said. “I think he really does, but I think he’s staying because of his kids.”

Jackson still works long hours and misses events. That’s the nature of the job. He told AnnArbor.com he saw about “a fifth of what Jeremy did as an athlete in high school.” But he lived under the same roof, and that was more than he could say for Fred Jr.

Jeremy took Pops' advice. He became a receiver. With the help of Jackson and former Michigan coach and current Iowa wide receivers coach Erik Campbell, who had coached Jeremy since he was young, Jeremy developed into a Division-I prospect. Offers started rolling in.

LSU coach Les Miles, who coached with Jackson when the two were at Michigan, wanted him down in Baton Rouge. Campbell wanted him at Iowa.

“That bothered me when they offered him,” Jackson said. “I mean, I thought there was a chance.”

But this was Coach J’s son. Might as well lay off.

There was no pitch, no question about becoming the next great Michigan receiver. For all of his life, Jeremy had seen his dad live the moments of the Michigan program: Biakabutuka’s 313 yards, Charles Woodson and the 1997 national championship, Braylon Edwards in triple overtime against Michigan State. Having a sit-down in the living room wasn’t changing anything.

“I never told him a thing,” Jackson says.

“There wasn’t much for him to really tell me,” Jeremy added. “I pretty much knew.”

***

Jackson’s shot at the NFL is fading fast, if it's not gone entirely. He’s in his fourth decade as a college coach. Now coaching with his old buddies, Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, he’ll remain as the running backs coach at Michigan, probably for at least the next four or eight years.

Josh, now 13, is in eighth grade. Already over 6-feet tall, he may be best athlete of them all. Jackson may have the chance to see another son through Michigan.

“It’s funny now that I’m older, I see my little brothers and how they are and I’m like, ‘oh they’re getting all that hands on,’ ” Fred Jr. said. “If I would’ve got it, I would have been sweet. Real sweet.”

Ann Arbor and the Michigan football program have brought the Jackson family together. Jeremy’s a sophomore now. Josh will be at Huron High School next year, about four miles away from Michigan Stadium.

Fred Jr., with a baby of his own, is about an hour up the road. With him, tucked away in some closet or in some box in the garage, are those quarterback playbooks Dad gave him all those years ago.

In a way those books represent the old Fred Jackson: the man who loved football, wanted to be at Michigan and was willing to sacrifice his family time to get there.

There’s a different Fred Jackson now. There’s a different relationship with Fred Jr. now. Fred Jr. comes to visit and it’s an event. Jeremy and Josh have to be home. Family is here. That lost time between Fred Jr. and Dad in those early years has been found.

“When I was younger, I wasn’t with him every day like my mom,” Fred Jr. says. “Now, it’s like I’ve got unlimited access to him and maybe I’m living a childhood a little bit with him. But I don’t mind that.”