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Getting to Know Michigan Football's New Defensive Coordinator, Greg Mattison (Defensive Rankings and All)

For the first time in a long time, since 2006 really, Michigan appears to finally have the right man at the defensive helm. When Brady Hoke was hired last week there were more questions than answers on the defensive side of the ball. What base defense would we play? Will players transfer? Can we recruit enough guys to fill the holes? And, most importantly, who in the hell is going to be our Defensive Coordinator.

Two years after the most ridiculous and ill-fated hire in Michigan football history (GERG!), Michigan went big and hired someone not just out of the NFL, but the Defensive Coordinator for one of the most dominant defenses in the professional ranks. On top of that, the hire was a man with Michigan bloodlines, stout recruiting chops, and a track record for stellar defensive play. In short, at first glance Michigan connected on a 70 yard bomb for the game winning touchdown with no time remaining. Hire wise, that is.

The man of the hour is former Baltimore Ravens' defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. Mattison's credentials are as impressive as you can find in the game of football, college or pro. In an effort to get to know him better, I took a look at Mattison's track record and put the important (available) numbers down for everyone to look at. Mattison's been a defensive line coach and defensive coordinator in some capacity his entire career. He's worked under Jack Harbaugh at Western Michigan, Lloyd Carr at Michigan, Urban Meyer at Florida, and Rex Ryan in the pros.

Because his resume as a coach basically goes back to the Paleolithic Era, I decided to limit my research to Mattison's college work since he first became a defensive coordinator in 1995 at Michigan. His time as a Defensive Coordinator (with a three year stint as DL and recruiting coordinator at Notre Dame) spans 13 years and is as impressive as it comes. I kept track of the rankings (and actual numbers supporting the rankings) for Total Defense, Rush Defense, Pass Defense, and Scoring Defense. Mattison's career defensive rankings from 1995-2007 are posted below for your review. Look at them and smile.  

Brian at MGo already has a Cliff's Notes version of this, but here are some highlights based on the numbers I gathered. He's been a part of top 20 defenses in 6 of his 13 years as a college coordinator. As a defensive line coach, your best measure of performance is in the running game. The worst rushing defense he's ever fielded (in his first year at Notre Dame, BTW) was ranked 83rd. Other than that, each rush defense he's fielded has been 57th or better. In fact, even in the last year of the Willingham debacle at Notre Dame, Mattison's run defense was ranked 4th(!!!!) in the country. After three years of watching Michigan get run on like a treadmill, even Mattison's worst year would be an improvement.

This isn't to say that Mattison's track record is perfect. There are the outliers like the Notre Dame's historically bad 2004 pass defense (116th) and his flamable 97th ranked 2007 Florida pass defense which Michigan set abalze in the 2008 Citrus Bowl. But, as always, There are explanations. Mattison was relieved of his DC duties by Willingham in 2002 and served only as DL coach. The result was a precipitous drop in Notre Dame's pass defense rankings and culminated in Willingham's final, horid 116th ranked pass defense. Mattison, as noted above, fielded arguably one of Notre Dame's  Mattison's best run defenses in spite of Willingham's incompetence.

As for the 2007 Florida defense, when you're starting mostly freshman and sophomores bad things happen. As a Michigan fan you should be aware of this. But that same defense won the national championship the next year, so apparently Mattison recruited good players and coached them up to the point that they were world beaters the next year.

It's pretty staggering to look at the drop in production of Notre Dame's pass defense after Mattison's demotion. After cratering in 1999 as the 82nd ranked pass defense, Mattison improved the pass defense to 43rd and then 10th in the next two years. After Willingham took over, the pass defense dropped to 46, 48, and 116. Hello cliff. What's staggering to me is that Mattison's defense limited Notre Dame's opponents to just 19.5 points a game in 2001, and Davie still managed to get himself fired.

Mattison can coach defense, yo. The numbers below prove it.

A key thing to keep in mind with this hire is Mattison's recruiting talents. Usually I avoid quoting anywhere from former Notre Dame HC Bob Davie for fear that his slllloooooowwwww ddddrrrrraaaaawwwwwwlllll will infect me and make me repeatedly overstate the obvious, but in this video he says one of the most important things Michigan fans need to hearright now: Greg Mattison can recruit. For all of Bob davie's faults as a football coach, recruiting was not one of them. That's high praise. If there's anything Michigan has desperately needed over the last four to five years it's a closer as our main defensive recruiter. While Michigan has brought some top level talent to Ann Arbor, sadly, it hasn't brought enough of it. Mattison's experience, personality, and NFL connections should change that.

Moving forward toward the 2011 season, Mattison is going to have his hands full. Michigan is short on experience and depth at the linebacker position, as well as short on depth on the defensive line. Michigan's returning a pile of players in the secondary, including injured starters Troy Woolfolk and J.T. Floyd, but not a lot of experience... er... no... that's not right... proven goodperformance. Critically, the Wolverines have been one of the worst tackling and least fundamentally sound teams in the Big Ten and it's going to be Mattison's to fix that. But Mattison's track record certainly indicates he can.  When Mattison's been in charge, he's fielded top 20 defenses 5 times in 8 years.

Given Michigan's goofy (re: bad) coaching over the last three years and the personnel issues Mattison is going to face, I'm not entirely sure what kind of defense he's going to run. Logic points to the 3-4 that TuffLynx described a few days ago. It's an NFL standard; Michigan's played with 3 down linement most of the last three years; lack of depth at the line; etc., etc., etc. But it's not like Michigan has the linebacker depth to employ a 3-4. If Michigan was to run a 3-4 (at least to me) you'd basically be running the 3-3-5 bandit/spur/whatever all over again because you'd be dropping Roh back to LB and moving him up and back. And we know that doesn't work.

My guess is that Michigan will run a 4-3 next season and probably the 2012 season until its linebacker depth recovers. In a 4-3 you can deploy Richard Ash and Mike Martin on the inside (with back-up from Terry Talbott and Quinton Washinton [and maybe Will Campbell]), and Ryan Van Bergen and Craig Roh on the outside with Jibreel Black spotting them (I'm sure we'll have at least two more DE's helping out, but I'm a little tired/lazy right now, so I'll let you fill that in on your own). That's the start of a decent line, though not one with a lot of depth. At Linebacker we're staring at Kenny Demens and J.D. Fitzgerald and a lot of unknowns. Clearly, Mattison's biggiest development challenge will be finding a servicable third linebacker and developing some depth. But that's a lot better than running a variant of the 3-3-5 (by necessity) all over again.

Michigan made a great move in hiring Mattison. If you're not sold yet, take a look at the numbers below and get back to me. We're in good shape. Mattison will hopefully be the catalyst that helps bring Michigan's defense back from the dead and starts to bring back that wonderful feeling we all remember. You know. The one that makes you feel like our defense can not only stop these guys, but own them.

For the first time in years, I feel like we might be able to get that back. And that's a great feeling.

The Greg Mattison College Defensive Coordinator (and Defensive Line Coach) Rankings File

1995-1996 Michigan (DC)

Total Defense = 11th  --  286.3 ypg allowed
Scoring Defense = 13th -- 16.8 ppg allowed
Rush Defense =  3rd--  419 att *  1081 yards * 2.6 ypc * 90.1 ypg
Pass Defense = 29th(Pass efficiency defense) -- 106.48 ypg * 15 INT * 9 TD * 394att/222comp

Total Defense =  18th-- 300.9 ypg allowed
Scoring Defense = 8th -- 15.2 ppg allowed
Rush Defense = 17th-- 420 att * 1193 yards * 2.8 ypc * 108.5 ypg
Pass Defense = 20th(Pass efficiency defense) -- 100.63 ypg * 13 INT * 5 TD * 371att/205comp

1997-2004 Notre Dame (DC until 2001, 2002-2004 DL coach recruiting coordinator)

1997: (7-6 Davie)
Total Defense =  60th-- 365.1 ypg allowed
Scoring Defense = 31st -- 19.8 ppg allowed
Rush Defense = 83rd-- 494 att * 2217 yards * 4.5 ypc * 184.8 ypg
Pass Defense = 23rd (Pass efficiency defense) -- 180ypg * 14 INT * 5 TD * 338att/184comp

1998: (9-3)
Total Defense = 43rd -- 347.2 ypg allowed
Scoring Defense = 27th-- 19.4 ppg allowed
Rush Defense =   40th-- 445 att * 1560yards * 3.5 ypc * 141.8 ypg
Pass Defense =   53rd(Pass efficiency defense) -- 119.71ypg * 12INT * 11 TD * 330att/193comp  

1999: (5-7)
Total Defense = 74th-- 383.7 ypg allowed
Scoring Defense = 78th-- 27.6 ppg allowed
Rushing Defense = 50th-- 428att * 1706 yards * N/A ypc * 142.2 ypg
Pass Defense = 82nd(Pass efficiency defense) -- 241.5 ypg * 12 INT * 21 TD * 407att/236comp

[Ed Note - slight change in presentation, Scoring defense is now listed last. Formatting issue.]

2000: (9-3)
Total Defense = 51st-- 353.82 ypg allowed
Rushing Defense = 57th-- 439att * 1624yards * 3.7 ypc * 147.6 ypg
Pass Defense(PED no longer charted) = 43rd-- 206.18ypg * 13 INT * 15 TD * 310att/156comp
Scoring Defense = 35th -- 20.5ppg allowed

2001: (5-6 Davie fired at end of season)
Total Defense14th-- 304.91 ypg allowed
Rush Defense39th-- 416 att * 1455 yards * 3.50 ypc * 132.3 ypg 
Pass Defense10th-- 172.64 ypg * 14 INT * 13 TD * 274att/137 comp    
Scoring Defense = 22nd-- 19.5 ppg allowed

2002: (10-3 Willingham, Mattison DL Coach and Recruiting Coordinator)
Total Defense = 13th-- 300 ypg allowed
Rush Defense10th-- 439 att * 1238 yards * 2.82 ypc * 95.2 ypg 
Pass Defense46th --  204.77 ypg * 21 INT * 12 TD* 452att/223comp   
Scoring Defense = 9th-- 16.7 ppg allowed

2003: (5-7, Mattison DL Coach and Recruiting Coordinator)
Total Defense33rd-- 340.17 ypg allowed
Rush Defense = 29th -- 486 att * 1526yards * 3.14 ypc * 127.2ypg
Pass Defense48th-- 213.00 ypg * 13 INT * 16 TD * 337att/194comp
Scoring Defense = 65th-- 25.3 ppg allowed

2004: (6-6, Mattison DL Coach and Recruiting Coordinator, Willingham and Mattison fired at end of season)
Total Defense54th-- 369.42 ypg  allowed
Rush Defense = 4th-- 399att * 1058 yards * 2.65 ypc * 88.2 ypg 
Pass Defense116th-- 281.25 ypg * 9INT * 23TD * 426att/248comp  
Scoring Defense = 46th-- 24.1 ppg allowed

2005-2007 Florida (Co-DC, DL coach)

2005: (HC Urban Meyer)
Total Defense 9th-- 299.83 ypg allowed 
Rush Defense10th-- 373 att * 1139 yards * 3.05 ypc * 94.9 ypg 
Pass Defense38th-- 204.92 ypg *16 INT *16 TD * 375att/196comp   
Scoring Defense = 18th-- 18.8 ppg allowed 

2006: (National Championship)
Total Defense=  6th-- 255.43 ypg allowed 
Rush Defense5th-- 370 att * 1015 yards * 2.74 ypc * 72.5 ypg 
Pass Defense = 33rd-- 182.93ypg * 21 INT * 10 TD * 458 244comp   
Scoring Defense = 6th-- 13.5 ppg allowed

Total Defense = 41st-- 361.85 ypg allowed 
Rush Defense10th-- 442 att * 1343 yards * 3.04 ypc * 103.3ypg 
Pass Defense = 98th-- 258.54 ypg *11INT * 19TD * 466att/277comp
Scoring Defense = 43th -- 25.5 ppg allowed

2008-2010 Ravens (DL Coach 2008, 2009-2010 DC)