Greg Mattison's high standards, relentless work ethic has Michigan's defense feeling nostalgic
ANN ARBOR -- For Greg Mattison, it never stops.
No matter how many punts Michigan forces, how many fourth down stands it makes or how many times it bails out its offense despite bad field position, the message remains the same.
For Mattison, it's just not good enough.
And through 22 games as Michigan's defensive coordinator, Mattison's impossible-to-please standards have been nothing but music to the ears of virtually every player he coaches.
"We just love him," senior linebacker Kenny Demens said. "We want to play for coach Mattison. He gives us all the tools and techniques that we need to make plays, and to just win. He works his butt off day in and day out.
"He makes us go out there and not just want to win for ourselves, but win for him also."
Through nine games this season, Michigan's defense continues to follow the trend of Mattison's 2011 group. It started out slow, but by the time it reached its stride, it had the potential of becoming a dominant unit.
The Wolverines are the nation's No. 1 pass defense, they rank No. 7 in total defense and No. 13 in points against.
To Mattison, though. It's still not good enough. He's on a mission to restore a legacy of classic Michigan defenses, groups that dominated on every down. And, no matter how much his unit improves, the carrot he hangs over their head isn't going away.
"I mean, until we play error free, 100 percent effort, and great technique, you’re not there," Mattison said Tuesday. "There’s some real good techniques some times -- one thing I will say is the effort part of it, that’s been there. That’s been there. That part of it is there, and they know that’s the only way you play here.
"Now it’s got to be the mistakes and it’s got to be the technique. And you have to keep chipping away at that and keep erasing the technique mistakes."
Mattison continually preaches about playing up to the Michigan standard of defense.
That standard is difficult to quantify, and it might actually be impossible to reach -- but his insistence every player he teaches can reach that level is what keeps the Wolverines hungry, and keeps them excited day in and day out.
"I don't know if you can play perfect for him, every tackle has to be a 15-yard loss to play some good defense for him," Michigan senior Jordan Kovacs said with a smile. "But that's what you look for in a coach.
"You want a coach that's never going to be satisfied."
Michigan defenders refuse to discuss where their unit was in 2010 under former coach Rich Rodriguez and ex-defensive coordinator Greg Robinson. Asked if he remembers where the defense was statistically just two years ago, Kovacs says "I could take a guess, yeah."
But when asked why things have changed so drastically in such a short time, players say that's easy.
"With coach Mattison, you start to become a believer," Demens said. "He says something and you're like 'Ok, I'll do it this way.' And then, it's like 'wow, it worked.' And then it works and works (again).
"We've just got to keep listening to him."
In less than two years, Mattison has easily won over the trust of every player he coaches. His unit's not perfect, but it wants to be. Badly.
Just barely getting by isn't good enough these days.
And that might be the biggest victory of all.
"Growing up watching Michigan, all I heard about was the great defense at Michigan," Demens added. "The great linebackers, the secondary, the great guys who have come through Michigan.
"I just wanted to be a part of that."
And before all's said and done, he just might be.