After another round of gut punches to Michigan, the program lost two highly regarded assistant coaches to the arch rival Ohio State Buckeyes in consecutive days. Greg Mattison and Al Washington were respected on-the-field coaches, but that wasn’t their only role. Like always, I’m here to break down these departures through the lens of recruiting.
Since they’re both defensive coaches, that side of the ball will be affected the hardest. Mattison has rightfully earned a reputation as a defensive line guru throughout his career. He’s recruited Rashan Gary, Maurice Hurst, Bryan Mone, Aidan Hutchinson, Carlo Kemp, Mazi Smith and countless others for Michigan.
Losing such a respected coach at the position will be a big loss. He’s been able to consistently keep a superb level of play from the defensive line for several years, and that holds a lot of weight with recruits.
As Mattison approaches 70 years old, he wasn’t as active on the recruiting trail, so this isn’t as big of a loss as it would have been a few years ago. Michigan can match a good portion of his recruiting talent by hiring a young and eager recruiter.
Last year, Michigan made a couple of those hires. One was Washington, who wasn’t in Ann Arbor enough to establish a recruiting reputation. He’ll mostly be remembered for getting incredibly close to landing 5-star defensive end Zach Harrison, but not quite pulling it off.
Washington does highlight what I think will be the biggest impact of losing these two coaches: recruiting in the state of Ohio.
In the 2019 cycle, the Wolverines signed six players from the Buckeye state, as many as their last four classes combined. Washington is listed as the primary recruiter for five of them, with the only exception being Nolan Rumler, who signed before he was hired.
As for Mattison, he’s done plenty well for himself in the state on his own. For Michigan, he pulled Dymonte Thomas, Jake Butt, Ben Gedeon and De’Veon Smith from the state down south.
After what seemed like a breakthrough there, Michigan now has to start over. Losing Urban Meyer was a huge blow to Ohio State’s recruiting, but Ryan Day has been smart in hiring two coaches who are very familiar with the area and can lock down their backyard. The Wolverines will have to find new avenues to work their way back into the state, which is by far the closest producer of major talent.
Speaking of starting from square one, Michigan will have to reset relationships with defensive line and linebacker recruits for the 2020 class. Thankfully this cycle is just starting and there is plenty of time to repair these bonds.
But the staff has to learn from their mistake after Tim Drevno was let go last offseason and not lose contact with their recruits. Offensive linemen like Trevor Keegan were heavy Michigan leans early on, but after Drevno left, no one kept those relationships going. In Keegan’s case, the staff was able to make up the ground, but for players like 5-star Harry Miller, it was too little too late.
The Michigan coaches still on staff must divvy up who Mattison and Washington had been primarily recruiting and make sure there isn’t a rift. When they do hire new coaches, which will hopefully be soon, they’ll have to reach out immediately to the defensive linemen and linebackers on the board to get them familiar with the fresh faces.
I’ve been a proponent of hiring more assistant coaches whose primary duties are recruiting, along the lines of Chris Partridge. Jim Harbaugh has a prime opportunity to reshape his staff and give opportunities to coaches who are looking to prove themselves and contribute on the recruiting trail. Hires like Jim McElwain, who was clearly just using his position as a placeholder for another head coaching job, can’t happen again.
The bottom line is Michigan has to start over with recruiting defensive linemen and linebackers, along with anyone from the state of Ohio. It’s a long way until the 2020 signing day, but they can’t waste any time either.