Ohio State’s new head football coach said he would have tried to hire Greg Mattison anyway.
And Al Washington, well, his ties to the area and recruiting prowess were too good to pass up.
Ryan Day, the successor to Urban Meyer, who announced his retirement in December, explained his decision Wednesday to hire two former Michigan coaches away from Jim Harbaugh. And while he admits the rivalry played a factor, it was much more than that.
“We’re looking for a veteran guy, knows the league and is someone I know,” Day said. “Because it’s very hard to bring someone in that you don’t know for that spot. I worked with Greg. I know Greg. I’ve stayed in touch with Greg.”
It was Day’s decision early on to make up a staff of two or three older, veteran coaches with a few other younger guys. Which would explain why OSU’s new coach chose to pair Mattison and former San Francisco 49ers cornerbacks coach Jeff Healy up as co-defensive coordinators.
Mattison, who spent 13 seasons as an assistant coach at Michigan, said Thursday his motivating factor for the move to Columbus was to be a coordinator again. Day, who once coached with Mattison at Florida, offered him that opportunity.
“Whether I was coaching here or anywhere else, I would have tried to hire Greg Mattison,” Day said. “It all came down to who where the best coaches for our players. Whatever that was.”
The move caught many around the Michigan football program by surprise. Mattison’s most recent two-year contract was expiring, but the 69-year-old was believed to be comfortable in his position as defensive line coach.
Instead, Mattison — who once left Michigan for Notre Dame, also — opted to make the move. A day later, Washington, who spent one season at Michigan as a linebackers coach, followed him.
And Washington, 34, made no secret his affinity for the Ohio State football program during his short stint in Ann Arbor. His father played for the Buckeyes under Woody Hayes and his wife attended the school. He grew up around the team and admitted to wanting to play there growing up.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for the rivalry,” Day said. “That had nothing to do with anything other than trying to find the best guys. I mean, Al Washington’s dad played here. He’s from here. I was a coach when he played. He coached with me.
“These are guys that I’ve known. It wasn’t like I was trying to cherry pick off someone else’s staff. But I felt like these were the best guys for us.”
Still, Day let out a sly smile when asked to clarify whether Michigan — and the rivalry — was a consideration when choosing to hire Mattison and Washington.
“It was in consideration, yeah,” Day said.
In fact, Day said he spoke to Jim Harbaugh on the phone in December, to ask the Michigan coach for permission to hire both.
“Any time you’re hiring someone, you want to call their boss and talk to them,” Day said. “And obviously get their permission before you address them. And so, I went ahead and did that.”