ORLANDO, Fla. — Greg Mattison stood on the sideline at West Orange High School after wrapping up another practice as the Michigan football team’s interim defensive coordinator.
He smiled. A reporter asked him if going back to coordinating the defense, the role he had from 2011 to 2014, was like getting back on a bicycle.
“Just like riding it forever,” Mattison said. “It’s been great.”
When the Wolverines take the field against Florida in the Citrus Bowl on Friday, they will have their ever-present familiar face. Through the highs and lows of the past five years, including two head coaches and three defensive coordinators, Mattison has stayed the entire time, first as defensive coordinator, then as defensive line coach, now back to interim defensive coordinator.
While Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh chose Boston College’s Don Brown over Mattison for the full-time defensive coordinator position, Mattison said he’s content to keep his focus on the defensive line.
“The thing that’s good about not being a coordinator is you get to spend every second with your position,” Mattison said. “When you’re a coordinator, your job, like it says, is coordinate and make sure everything’s going.”
While Mattison can still pay attention to the defensive line as a coordinator, the broader role does direct his focus elsewhere.
“You don’t lose it, but you can’t put every second into it,” Mattison said. “The thing about being a position coach, now, you get up in the morning, you go to bed at night and you’re doing one thing — you’re trying to get that group of guys as good as you can be. That’s something I’ve always enjoyed.”
Mattison has enjoyed consistent success as the defensive line coach, developing players such as redshirt juniors Chris Wormley and Willie Henry. The players say Mattison has remained mostly the same through all of the transitions, first with former coordinator D.J. Durkin arriving and then with Durkin leaving to take the head coaching position at Maryland.
“Same old coach Matty, doing the same type of things,” Wormley said. “Obviously with Coach Durkin’s playbook, but (he’s) doing the same type of things.”
In the fifth year of Mattison’s second stint at Michigan, fifth-year senior linebacker Desmond Morgan is the only player remaining on the defense who came in with Mattison. Morgan, Mattison and the Wolverines won the Sugar Bowl with an 11-2 season in Morgan’s freshman year, then endured three progressively worsening seasons, then played major roles in the team’s revival in 2015.
“The amount of things that we’ve been through together, the ups and downs, both him and I have gone through that,” Morgan said. “It’s been a journey, but he’s a great guy to go through it with — a tremendous coach and a great mentor figure as well in a lot of ways.”
When Michigan’s season wraps up Friday, Mattison will make yet another transition. Brown will arrive as defensive coordinator, and Mattison will return his full attention to the defensive line with the hope of continuing the unit’s success.
Mattison has spoken with Brown and is familiar with Steve Addazio, Brown’s head coach at Boston College. If the Wolverines continue business as usual next year, it’s due in no small part to Mattison, who will return and remain a consistent figure on the sideline.
“Just like last year when Coach Durkin came in, having that familiar face is nice, especially for a defensive line,” Wormley said. “He knows how to coach us. He knows our strengths and our weaknesses. I think having that familiarity with coaching changes each year is big.”