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Ohio State: After crossing enemy lines, Greg Mattison all in with Buckeyes

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Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has switched sides in the rivalry with Michigan. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Ohio State Football

Ohio State: After crossing enemy lines, Greg Mattison all in with Buckeyes

COLUMBUS — Greg Mattison has worn plenty of coaching polos, and if the new one with the Ohio State logo on the chest felt weird, he certainly didn’t show it.

Surely after 13 seasons wearing Michigan colors, it would have been understandable for Mattison to feel a little uncomfortable at a podium in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. In many ways, it was a little odd to hear somebody who spent so many years trying to beat the Buckeyes talking about how he’s going to revamp the defense for the Silver Bullets. And maybe when The Game itself rolls around, Mattison will have a flashback or two and think back fondly on his time on the other sideline.

But the veteran of the profession and new Ohio State co-defensive coordinator has made it quite clear: He’s fully committed to other side of the greatest rivalry in college football now, and that means never holding back in the endless battle with the Wolverines.

“Well, I have tremendous respect [for the rivalry],” Mattison said. “You’ve got the two winningest programs in college football. I mean, you can’t help but say that this is a great program. Sometimes you like to pinch yourself and I say, ‘You’ve been at Michigan and you’ve got a chance to go to Ohio State and now you’re at Ohio State. You’ve been at two of the greatest programs.’

“As far as the rivalry and all that, it’s always hard. When you leave people you’ve been with for 13 years, when you leave people — [it’s tough] at any job. The one thing about college football, when you leave one program and go to another, that’s one of the hardest things there is because you’ve given everything you have to those players.”

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Greg Mattison has spent 13 years at Michigan before joining Ohio State. (Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY Sports)

Mattison has been through that process before, and in November he’ll have to do it again coaching against a group of players he helped recruit, develop and lead during his career. Going to Notre Dame or Florida or the Baltimore Ravens certainly doesn’t seem quite the same as crossing over the border from Michigan to Ohio State, although Mattison is intent on treating it the same way.

There will be Michigan fans who view him as a traitor. There will be Ohio State supporters who look at him with a cautious eye. That’s part of the deal when it comes to a rivalry that is on the minds of both programs every day of the year.

But ultimately, Mattison and Ryan Day are the only two guys who mattered in this process. Mattison wanted to be a coordinator again, and Jim Harbaugh wasn’t going to be able to keep him around without that kind of responsibility. Day wanted another experienced coach to help mentor a group of assistants that is skewing younger, and he had no doubts about where Mattison’s loyalty would be heading into the future.

For those two, those factors outweighed any other concerns that may have existed about the rivalry — but maybe with an added bonus for Day that he was able to swipe Mattison and Al Washington both away from Michigan.

“[Coming from Michigan] was a consideration, yeah,” Day said with a smile. “I worked with Greg. I know Greg. I’ve stayed in touch with Greg. … Knowing him, whether I was coaching here, anywhere else, I would have tried to hire Greg Mattison.

“It all comes down to who are the best coaches for our players. Whatever that was, that’s what makes [athletic director] Gene Smith so good: ‘Just go get them. Whatever you need, get those guys.’ That was the a determination we made. Then just went ahead and did it.”

Ryan Day-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State coach Ryan Day made Greg Mattison a key target for his staff with the Buckeyes. (Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports)

Mattison has only had about a month to transition into the new role, which he has largely spent on the road recruiting before the staff can settle back down, log more hours at the practice facility and gear up for spring camp.

That has apparently been enough time, though, to make him feel comfortable sporting some different colors. Maybe it will take longer for the sight of Mattison wearing them to feel normal, but it’s not going to change the work he does for Ohio State in the meantime.

“Well, I can’t control what the Ohio State fans do,” Mattison said. “The only thing I’m going to tell you is that what they will see in watching me coach is me give everything I can to this program. They’re going to see that I will always try to coach the players the best they can possibly be coached, and how they perceive it and what they do, that’s up to them.

“To have the opportunity to be a co-coordinator at a great university like Ohio State was something that was an opportunity that I really wanted to pursue.”

That job will obviously require an updated wardrobe. But so far, Mattison is already looking like a perfect fit on the other side of the rivalry.

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Chargerbuck
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Chargerbuck

“Cautious eye”— Remember, Harbaugh would not give Mattison a Defensive Coordinator role… Anyone remember when Penn State shunned Larry Johnson for their Head Coach role? In many ways the Mattison situation mirrors Larry Johnson’s…

…and that worked out very well for the coach and OSU! Time to welcome Coach Mattison with open arms!!!

DLC
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DLC

Greg sure looks better in scarlet /red than in maize /blue…. go Bucks !!!

Buckeye_Boston
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Buckeye_Boston

So 2 people who were defensive coaches for a team OSU has beaten 15 times since 2000, and scored over 30 points each of the last 6 years? Doesn’t sound like an upgrade, just saying

Caleb T Shuler
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Caleb T Shuler

Meyer or Tressel never went after Ttun people….

RLS
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RLS

But urban probably should have. Hard to question one of the greatest coaches of all time, but hindsight is 20/20. If you weren’t worried about the Bucks D game in and game out last year, you weren’t watching. We’ll see what hindsight tells us this time, but I think these are bold, necessary, and great hires.

Lawclub
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Lawclub

They’ve worked for them but they aren’t “Ttun people”. Mattison worked with Meyer at FL and Washington’s dad played for the Bucks. He knows Day from BC and grew up wanting to be a Buckeye.

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Austin Ward is Lettermen Row's senior writer covering Ohio State football and basketball. The award-winning journalist has covered the Buckeyes since 2012, spending five of those seasons working for ESPN after previous stints at the Casper Star-Tribune and Knoxville News Sentinel.

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