A little over a year ago, Greg Mattison and Al Washington were in Ohio Stadium and on the sideline watching their Michigan Wolverines take on the Ohio State Buckeyes. As members of Jim Harbaugh's staff, they were key pieces in what had been the nation's top defense.
This Saturday, the pair of defensive coaches will be in Ann Arbor, Michigan, watching their top-ranked Buckeyes take on the Wolverines.
It's an odd shift for two coaches intimately familiar with college football's greatest rivalry. One year ago, Mattison and Washington were hellbent on beating Ohio State. Fast forward to Saturday, the pair will be working their hardest to beat the university that was signing their paychecks a season ago.
It's not like this moment snuck up on the former Michigan coaches who now wear Scarlet and Gray throughout the week at practice, on the road during recruiting visits and during game days every Saturday. The pair knew what they were doing when they left Michigan in favor of the rival who's tortured the Wolverines in all but three of their matchups since the turn of the century.
Mattison has strong Michigan ties. He was on both Gary Moeller and Lloyd Carr's staff throughout the early and mid 90s, then after stints at Notre Dame, Florida and the Baltimore Ravens, he returned to Ann Arbor to join Brady Hoke's defensive staff. He was then retained by Harbaugh in 2015, meaning he's served for every Michigan head coach except one (Rich Rodriguez) since Bo Schembechler roamed the sideline.
Washington has different ties to the rivalry. His father, Al Washington Sr., played for Ohio State from 1977-80, and still ranks eighth all time in career tackles. Washington played his college football at Boston College during a stretch when Ryan Day was honing his craft with the Eagles as a graduate assistant. He would go on to graduate and join that staff alongside Day.
Washington served on Luke Fickell's staff at Cincinnati before spending the 2018 season with Michigan.
"Al Washington is going to be a terrific addition to our coaching staff," Day said in a statement when Washington was announced as Ohio State's new linebackers coach. "I’ve known him as player and as a coach and I know his family very well. I think his familiarity with this region as a coach and as a recruiter is going to be very impactful, as will his leadership with our linebackers unit."
Mattison's move to Columbus was the bigger surprise, but it was too big of an opportunity for him to pass up.
"Leaving Michigan was a very tough decision," Mattison said after joining Day in Columbus. "I spent 13 years there. But I also have spent 19 out of the last 24 years coordinating, and to have the opportunity to have a co-coordinator at a great university like Ohio State was something that – an opportunity that I really wanted to pursue, and that was the biggest thing.”
When Michigan and Ohio State square off this Saturday, Mattison and Washington will look across the field at coaches they used to call coworkers and players they recruited. It adds another wrinkle to an intense rivalry and will make for a strange homecoming.