Before Jan. 1, the last football game Chris Partridge coached on the field was at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., on Dec. 5, 2014.
Back then, he was the head coach at Paramus Catholic (N.J.) High School, alma mater of Michigan redshirt sophomore Jabrill Peppers. That December night was his fourth straight appearance in the state championship at the home of the NFL’s New York Giants and Jets.
His Paladins lost, 34-18, ending a two-year win streak, and it has been a wild ride for Partridge since then.
Last season, Jim Harbaugh’s first as Michigan’s head football coach, Partridge served as the director of player personnel. When former defensive coordinator and linebackers coach D.J. Durkin took the head coaching position at Maryland, Partridge was appointed the interim linebackers coach for the Citrus Bowl against Florida.
Suddenly, Partridge was back on the field in a similar-sized stadium but on a much bigger stage.
“It doesn’t get any better for me,” Partridge said. “It’s awesome. It’s what I love. I’m on the field, I’m coaching, I’m getting after it.”
Tuesday night, Partridge came out into the Towsley Museum at Schembechler Hall, stood in front of more than a dozen reporters and said, “Whoa.” He’s not in New Jersey anymore.
As big of a leap as Partridge has made in 15 months, he insists that it hasn’t been as difficult a transition as people would think. During the month coaching linebackers in preparation for the bowl game, he could lean on the leadership of three seniors — Joe Bolden, Desmond Morgan and James Ross. Now, the focus shifts toward next season, when he will have to mentor an entirely new group of linebackers.
“It’s just a challenge,” Partridge said. “We gotta get some young guys ready to go, and we got some great guys that are coming back that have played a lot of football, too.”
Despite the loss of three important seniors, Partridge has plenty of help. Just like the players, he spent last season learning from a coaching staff of almost all former NFL coaches, including departed special teams coordinator John Baxter. Baxter went back to take the same position at Southern California, but Partridge soaked up all of the knowledge he could and eventually added Baxter’s old role to his duties in January.
Michigan’s first-year defensive coordinator, Don Brown, is also a former linebackers coach who can help Partridge.
“It’s like a clinic here,” Partridge said. “I can carry a notebook around and write something new that I learn every single day.”
Last year, as director of player personnel, Partridge observed and learned from the coaches but also coordinated Michigan’s recruiting effort. He watched film on prospective players, talked to high school coaches and families and set up visits for recruits. He observed recruits with their families, in school and on the field. And then he prepared to take the next step.
“You attack any role you have,” Partridge said. “I attacked last year like it was the best role I could ever have, and I got a new one. Maybe I like this one a little better, but I’m just going to attack it 110 percent and do whatever I can for the team.”
Though Partridge was often around the facility, he was virtually unknown by redshirt junior linebacker Mike McCray.
“I knew who he was, but I wasn’t around him a lot,” McCray said. “I didn’t think he would know about what we did as linebackers. I knew he was a great high school coach. That’s the only thing I knew, really.”
By all accounts, the move has worked out so far. Harbaugh praised Partridge’s work as director of player personnel last season, and he said in December he would do everything possible to keep Partridge in Ann Arbor, promoting him to a full-time assistant position as soon as he could.
As it turned out, that chance came in January, and Partridge accepted, reaping the benefits of sticking around (he reportedly had prior offers to coach elsewhere).
“I wanted to be a coach, and (Harbaugh) knew that,” Partridge said. “You work hard in your job and you get those opportunities, but in your heart, this is the place I wanted to be. I had to put my trust in him, and just knowing that I wanted to coach for Jim Harbaugh and I wanted to be at Michigan and I believe in this place, and fortunately it worked out.”