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Posted on Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 2:46 p.m.

No doubt: Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is Big Ten's coach of the year

By Kyle Meinke


Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has turned the Michigan defense into one of the nation's best.

Melanie Maxwell |

Greg Mattison is the Big Ten's coach of the year.

What's that you say? Assistants aren't eligible? Oh.

Still, I implore you to find a single coach — head or otherwise — who's had more of an impact on a Big Ten team this season than the Michigan football team's defensive coordinator.

Which is good, since his $750,000 salary is more than at least 39 FBS head coaches — including each of this state's head men except his boss and the one in East Lansing. He actually makes roughly the same as what Brady Hoke would have made this year at San Diego State.

Mattison is paid almost as much as Purdue head coach Danny Hope and ousted Penn State head coach Joe Paterno. And who would you rather have on your sideline?

In other words: He's worth every dime.

The Wolverines' defense is playing its best football heading into its game Saturday against No. 17 Nebraska (Noon, ESPN). It is coming off its most impressive effort in years — more impressive than a 58-0 shutout of Minnesota earlier this year.

When was the last time a Michigan offense could play poorly and commit mistakes on the road, yet still win 31-17, as it did against Illinois last week? That's the work of a dominant Michigan defense.

Mattison makes it clear this is Hoke's team, but which of them has been more instrumental to Michigan's success this season? It's a circular argument, since Mattison wouldn't be here at all if it weren't for Hoke.

But the point stands: Mattison has been the most valuable coach in the Big Ten this season. Is it even close?

Michigan has jumped 102 spots in scoring defense, going from 107th last year (at 35.2 points per game) to fifth this year (15.5). It trails only Penn State among Big Ten teams in scoring defense.

It's coming off a game against Illinois — not a great team, but also not Indiana — in which it did not allow a third-down conversion until late in the third quarter. It allowed minus-12 rushing yards in the first half.

That is to say, the Wolverines gained 1.2 yards of field position every team the Illini rushed in the first half. Let's see last year's defense, with these players, do that.

That's the thing. The Wolverines have doing what they're doing with largely the same personnel as last year. And, sure, there's some improvement inherent to players getting a year older.

But 19.7 points per game better? Or 132.9 yards per game better?

No. Not even close.

Why is this happening? How is this happening?

Better scheme, better preparation and, most of all, better players — each of which come back to Mattison.

Survey the defensive contributors, and you'll find markedly better performances almost across the board from last year to this year, and even over the course of this season.

J.T. Floyd, an OK player last year until injury cut his season short, is coming off one of the best coverage games by a Michigan corner in years. His work on A.J. Jenkins — the Big Ten's leading receiver, mind you — was truly impressive.

Blake Countess has gone from true freshman corner to shut down corner.

Craig Roh has gone from not even registering in the box score the first two games to becoming one of the most forceful rush ends in the Big Ten.

Ryan Van Bergen has gone from relative unknown, to fine player early this year, to one of the Big Ten's most impactful interior lineman.

It led him this week to say this: "We think our starting four is better than any starting four in the country. That’s our opinion. You don’t have to believe it, but that’s what we think and we expect to play that way."

Cocky? Sure, a little bit. But that's not so bad in sport.

Confident? Absolutely, and it's necessary in sport. Michigan's defense, for the first time in a long time, is oozing in it.

But they're not done yet.

"We have two pretty good opponents left," Hoke said. "Nebraska is a good football team. I don’t think we’re in any position to think that we’re the Chicago Bears of ’86. ... Is that the year?”

No, coach, it's 1985.

"’85? I was close.”

Hoke's not so good with numbers. He doesn't like numbers.

But the numbers like his defense.

And Mattison.

These two teams are remarkably similar. They'll both try to establish the run, which they're pretty good at because of their quarterbacks. They each feature two of the Big Ten's top-10 rushers (Michigan's Denard Robinson and Fitz Toussaint, Nebraska's Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead). They'll both be physical, especially up front. There are two big differences, though.

Michigan's defense is better, and Michigan commits more turnovers.

The Wolverines' defense has been dominant in recent weeks, particularly last week against Illinois. The unit certainly has been better than Nebraska's defense.

Conversely, Michigan also has been plagued by turnovers. That is especially true of its quarterback, Robinson, who has committed six turnovers in the past three weeks and has thrown the fourth-most interceptions in the country.

In a game this close, turnovers have a strong correlation to outcome. That will be especially true this week, because both teams emphasize the run, which will shorten the game.

If the Wolverines take care of the football, they win. But that just won't happen.

Nebraska 28, Michigan 24

Kyle Meinke covers Michigan football for He can be reached at 734-623-2588, by email at and followed on Twitter @kmeinke.


Blu n Tpa

Sat, Nov 19, 2011 : 2:09 p.m.

rightmind250 Balitmore Sports Examiner "Mattison stun Ravens, Leaves for Michigan". Yep, that sounds like he was fired, in your world.

Blu n Tpa

Sat, Nov 19, 2011 : 2:04 p.m.

rightmind 250 "i'm from Maryland Mattison was fired at Baltimore." Wow! Is that how it works? I'm from Tampa and the Bucs are trading three defensive linemen for a box of Cracker Jacks. Man, this is great! You must feel wonderful because you not only don't support what you write, you actually believe it anyway. Proof, like a quote from a source who is with the team would be nice, or is that too much to ask. The key here is Coach Mattison is at Michigan. He the staff and players have done an incredible job this season. And I don't even have to make that up. TiM Go Blue!


Sat, Nov 19, 2011 : 6:51 a.m.

Mattison was a great hire and has done wonders. Give Hoke credit for not having so much ego that he wouldn't hire the best.


Sat, Nov 19, 2011 : 6:48 a.m.

I love you Michigan Fans.Every Coach that coaches for you guys,are THE BEST IN THE WORLD,SHOULD GET COACH OF THE YEAR.Look at the Cup Cake Teams you play,8 homes games.Like someone else said on here,please wait until the season is over.You Michigan fans don't drink the Koolaid,YOU DROWN IN IT.


Sat, Nov 19, 2011 : 8:01 a.m.

Every coach? I didnt hear anyone saying RR and Co. were the best in the world. Hoke is easily the front runner for coach of the year in the B1G, no question. Leave it to a MSU fan to complain about a cupcake schedule... forget last year already? Have fun with the Juggernaut that is Indiana this week too btw...

Larry Weisenthal

Sat, Nov 19, 2011 : 5:30 a.m.

Picking scores is an exercise in foolishness. Michigan 31 Nebraska 17


Sat, Nov 19, 2011 : 3:33 a.m.

Mattison is a superior defensive tactician. Hoke is the heart, soul and cornerstone of the new Michigan. I'd be willing to bet Mattison (and Borges) would agree with that.


Sat, Nov 19, 2011 : 1:57 a.m.

Well, Meinke, I see you've mastered the art of stirring the pot. LOL! All of us fans and readers who've invested so much time and effort to turn you into a passable sports journalist are hurt by your scheming manipulation: you actually say you think Michigan will LOSE this game??!! To both Kyle and Nebraska I say: This is not Kansas, Toto, THIS IS MICHIGAN. Also, Kyle, I don't think it's very smart to diss Coach Hoke's star quarterback like that. I'm afraid for you, I think you just painted a target on your own chest. Beware The Hoke; bring a couple of body guards the next time you attend one of The Hoke's press conferences. ;-)

1st Down

Sat, Nov 19, 2011 : 3:24 a.m.

Edit: this is not Oregon, Theo, THIS IS MICHIGAN

Theo's Brother

Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 11:32 p.m.

Keep picking against us Kyle. We ALWAYS win when you do! Go BLUE!

Terry Star21

Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 11:32 p.m.

Kyle buddy - no wonder your in last place with your peers in predictions....come on, Michigan wins hands down ! I love this guy man (Mattison), he has given us Michigan Faithful something to wake up for, something to look forward to and something to be proud of - what a difference ! If he were president I would call him Gregbraham Lincoln. MgoBlueForTiM..........Mattison for President.....


Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 11:05 p.m.

I agree with Coach Mattison being the coach of the year and give you credit for thinking out of the box and suggesting it. The prediction? Nope. The teams are relatively well balanced and even on paper, the line makes it a pick'em game (3 1/5 is home field) but I think that the defense wins for us and the final score is 28-17 Michigan.


Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 10:07 p.m.

Kyle, you predicted wrong for the ND game, and the Illinois game, and now you've done it again for this game. UM outplays Nebraska in the 2nd half and wins it 28-21. Go Blue !

1st Down

Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 10:06 p.m.

PS...dont kid yourself in to thinking that Joe Pa made close to what Mattison is making.... that was his base salary...but with bonus, enhancements, endorsements etc...Joe Pa earned well over $3 mil per year.

1st Down

Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 10:03 p.m.

Sorry Kyle. You are wrong. Brady Hoke hired Greg Mattison away from the Baltimore Ravens. Brady Hoke is responsible for Michigan's resurgence on defense because he put the right coaches in place (Mattison, Jerry Montgomery, Kurt Mallory and himself assisting the DL)...therefore: Brady Hoke is the Big Ten Coach of the Year.


Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 11:04 p.m.

I totally agree with that 1st Down. Good call.


Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 9:28 p.m.

Kyle (Don't call me Busch) Meinke, Can you dial up RR and ask him if he'd like to take back his infamous "Even Vince (Lombardi) cannot coach this defense" quote last year. Next year's schedule is far more brutal than this year. TiM

Lorain Steelmen

Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 8:51 p.m.

I am definitely hoping that UM can win this one. ....But I think that Meinke is right on the money. Drob's propensity for turnovers, and the nightmare, of a Cornhusker back, running a counter, untouched, for a 45 yard TD, because someone was out of position, scares the livin' crap out of me! In either case, UM can NOT recover from that.


Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 8:48 p.m.

you get what you pay for. all i can say is what a team. they will do a great job now and years to come.

1st Down

Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 10:05 p.m.

Tony Gibson was the second highest paid coach on the staff last year, earning over $200K....and he was terrible. In that case, with most of RRs coaches, we didnt get what we paid for.

jeff blue

Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 8:40 p.m.

I agree that Mr Mattison has done wonders for Michigan defensive football; however, I think that we should wait for the season to unwind. Let's not look too far ahead. I am confident that we will get to ten wins one way or another. However, as I have pointed out before, Michigan has yet to beat a good B10 team this year: Wiscy and PSU were off the 2011 schedule. We lost to MSU & Iowa (niether of which are top teams, especially Iowa). We have stiil to play Nebraska and OSU. Thank goodness they are home games. So who did we beat: Minny, Northwestern, Purdue and the Biting Illini? I just want to enjoy the last two games -- and to win those games, as we surely should. Our focus needs to be 100% on Nebraska. This is a big game. JEFF, GO BLUE!!


Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 8:27 p.m.

Greg Mattison's salary was included earlier this week, it is unneccessary to bring this up over and over again. I don't care and response is: Good for him. We then get a lot of ridiculous comments about coaches being overpayed for chasing a football around. Then the whole point of the article is lost which is that Greg Mattison is a man who really wants to be here and is impacting the players in his squad into better men and athletes. He is an inspiration. As a former student athlete at Michigan, a great coach can elevate a young man or women in their teens to become ambitious, productive, hard working and honest citizens as adults in our society. Some of Mattison's players will get to move on to the NFL but many won't. Want a good example of both? Those who did, since retired or didn't, then just meet some of the Maize and Blue football alums who played under Bo, Mo and Lloyd Carr.


Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 9:40 p.m.


Rich Call

Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 8:15 p.m.

Didn't you predict Illinois last week too? Guess your not a believer yet Rich

Terry Star21

Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 11:34 p.m.

Rich, Kyle is in last place w/ the other sports writers on predictions - nuff said ! (sorry Kyle)