In the first big surprise of the Ravens offseason, Greg Mattison has left the team to accept the defensive coordinator position at the University of Michigan.
The Ravens immediately promoted secondary coach Chuck Pagano to defensive coordinator.
Mattison's decision to jump from the NFL to the collegiate level for the same position is uncommon, but a league source said Mattison's ties to Michigan, the college game and new head coach Brady Hoke led him to leave the NFL's 10th-ranked defense.
Mattison and Hoke coached together on Jack Harbaugh's staff at Western Michigan and both worked under Lloyd Carr at Michigan. Another drawing point for Mattison is that his daughter, Lisa, is having a baby soon in Ann Arbor, Mich.
"We're excited for our defense and for Chuck, and we're happy for Greg Mattison," Ravens coach John Harbaugh told the team's website.
The two Ravens defensive coordinators who preceded Mattison — Mike Nolan and Rex Ryan — left to become NFL head coaches.
Few expected Mattison to go elsewhere this offseason, much less to a college job.
"I was like, 'Wow,'" Ravens cornerback Fabian Washington said. "I was surprised because he's leaving a great job being the defensive coordinator of the Ravens."
Pagano, 50, will formally be introduced as the fifth defensive coordinator in Ravens history at a news conference Wednesday. He has spent the past three seasons as their secondary coach.
Two years ago, he finished second behind Mattison when the Ravens selected Mattison to replace Rex Ryan as defensive coordinator. If Mattison didn't leave, Pagano was expected to go to Oakland and become the Raiders' defensive coordinator.
"Chuck is the right guy for the job," said Washington, who played five years under Pagano (two with Oakland and three with Ravens). "If anybody deserves that job, it's Chuck. That guy is one of the best football coaches I've ever been around."
Pagano's only experience as a coordinator came at the collegiate level at UNLV (1990-91) and North Carolina (2007). He previously was the secondary coach for the Cleveland Browns (2001-04) and Oakland Raiders (2005-06).
So, what kind of defense should the Ravens expect from Pagano?
"Chuck will put his own twist on it but it will remain the same," Washington said.
In two seasons with Mattison as defensive coordinator, the Ravens finished in the top 10 in defense both times. The Ravens were the NFL's No. 3 defense in 2009 and ranked No. 10 in 2010.
Before joining the Ravens in 2008, Mattison spent 31 years on the collegiate level, including 12 seasons as a defensive coordinator. He was Michigan's defensive coordinator in 1995 and 1996.
Although it rarely happens, Mattison is the second NFL coordinator this year to leave for a coordinator job at the college level. Charlie Weis recently went from being the offensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs to the University of Florida.
"Greg loves Michigan, loves recruiting and is excited about coming back to Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan," Hoke said in a statement. "Greg is one of the top defensive coordinators in football, and his defensive units have always prided themselves on stopping the run. He will be a great asset to our program and an excellent addition to our staff."
Teams have reportedly expressed interest in nearly one-third of coach John Harbaugh's 21-member staff. Besides Mattison, Wade Harman (tight ends), Marwan Maalouf (assistant special teams coach), Wilbert Montgomery (running backs coach), Al Saunders (senior offensive assistant) and Jim Zorn (quarterbacks) have all been linked to teams.
It is believed Harman is the only coach who is currently not under contract and can go elsewhere. Harbaugh has granted some coaches permission to speak to other teams, according to a source.
Zorn, who completed his first season coaching the Ravens quarterback, is a potential candidate for the offensive coordinator jobs in Seattle and Cleveland. He has connections in both places having served as the Seahawks' quarterback and quarterbacks coach for a combined 14 years and worked under Browns president Mike Holmgren for six seasons.
Saunders, a consultant for the Ravens the past two seasons, has been contacted by two NFL teams, a league source said. The Raiders reportedly are looking at Saunders as an offensive coordinator after Hue Jackson was hired as head coach. The other team interested in Saunders is unknown.
At his Monday news conference, Harbaugh said he hasn't been disappointed with any of his coaches this season but couldn't guarantee they would all return.
"I'm not going to sit here and say, 'Things can't change,' because I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow," Harbaugh said Monday. "Nobody's promised tomorrow. And that's just being honest. I can't stand up here and make promises and oaths, but I like our coaches, and I think we can have a great staff next year, and I'm confident in our guys."