March 20, 2012

Borton's Blog: Coordinated effort

Brady Hoke's best decision upon returning to Ann Arbor involved bringing along offensive coordinator Al Borges and importing old pal Greg Mattison to reestablish the notion of defense at Michigan Stadium. Hoke's second-best decision might have been to put both in front of the media on a weekly basis.

The on-the-field results in year one speak for themselves. Borges took the pieces of an offense he doesn't typically run, adjusted to them and produced more points than they managed the year before. Mattison grabbed onto one of the worst defenses in the nation from 2010 and made it not just respectable, but stunningly effective (No. 6 in the nation in scoring defense, if you need particulars).

But this isn't about the nuts and bolts of what they accomplished on the field. Rather, it's a nod to Michigan football for trotting them out for public consumption every week during the season.

Everyone got a reminder about those sessions yesterday, when Mattison and Borges made their way back behind the microphones. They were, as usual, funny, informative, self-assured and completely in charge.

Hoke gets plenty of credit here. His lack of ego is clearly on display. He doesn't have to be the show, all the time. He has coordinators who adroitly supplement the information he provides, and Hoke isn't the least bit afraid to trust them in the spotlight.

Nor should he be. Mattison has coached in the NFL, and coordinated defenses at Michigan, Florida, Notre Dame, etc. Borges has run offenses at Auburn, UCLA, and a host of other venues. Both of them come across as the uncle who is amusing and puts you at ease, but also more knowledgeable than anyone in the room.

They've heard every question imaginable, and they're not knocked off balance by a single one. They're not about to release a solitary nugget of information they don't want to (note Borges' retort that "there's a reason practices are closed" when a position-switch inquiry about quarterback Devin Gardner came up).

At the same time, they don't stonewall abrasively, or abusively. There's no death stare. There's no Robert Montgomery Knight rants or riffs on game faces or sports writing ranking two notches about prostitution.

They'll suffer fools with a quip or a deflecting retort, or a firm but polite shut down if someone persists where they're not going. But they always shed enough light on Michigan's various strategic situations to make their sessions a must-read (or a must-view, on video).

In the grand scheme of things, the Borges/Mattison media sessions probably don't rank very high on Hoke's list. If he were writing out necessary items for any given day, those would be off the page and scribbled down on his pant leg.

But they're another way Hoke (and Michigan's media relations department) have used to sell the program and foster a good feeling among those that convey their words to the public. Listen to Borges and Mattison for 15 minutes or so, and it's not too tough to figure out why they're recruiting at an unprecedented pace.

Of course, Hoke could trot out a reincarnated Bo himself to speak, and if Michigan wasn't winning, it wouldn't matter. He knows that. He's taking care of that.

But combine getting it done on the field with little touches off it, and the results are striking.

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