Mitchell kicks off head coaching career

Matt Mitchell

Eric Coulter

Matt Mitchell

Cody Eding

New Grand Valley State University football coach Matt Mitchell said he has not lost any sleep since taking over the program’s helm in January, but that does not mean he is any less anxious to get his first season underway.

When Mitchell takes the field tonight, he will become the seventh head coach to do so in GVSU’s history and only the third head coach at the university since the hiring of Brian Kelly in 1991.

“We spend a lot of time behind the scenes that people don’t know about,” Mitchell said. “I’m ready to get out there and start coaching in a game atmosphere, making adjustments and doing the things we’re used to doing.”

With tonight’s game being broadcast nationally on the CBS College Sports channel, Mitchell said many family members and friends plan to tune in to his coaching debut.

The 35-year-old took the reigns from Chuck Martin after six years as an assistant coach on Martin’s staff. Most recently he served as the defensive coordinator and linebacker/safety coach. In 2009, Mitchell’s defense ranked in the top-20 of six Division II defensive categories and held six opponents to 10 points or less.

When Martin left GVSU for a job on Kelly’s staff at the University of Notre Dame after last season, the athletic department did not have to look far to find Martin’s successor. As they had done in the past with both Kelly and Martin, the university hired from within its own program.

GVSU Athletic Director Tim Selgo said Mitchell’s experience with recruiting in the area and awarding scholarships at the Division II level made him the top candidate. Division II football programs are only awarded 36 scholarships to spread among the entire team, while Division I teams are allowed 85 scholarships.

“There was no question that during the interview process it became very evident that Mitch’s six years at Grand Valley – two years as a defensive coordinator – was something we valued highly,” Selgo said. “As opposed to the other candidates, he was part of the most successful Divsion II program at the time.”

The football program has six assistant coaches with six years of experience at GVSU each, as well as more than 100 returning players from 2009. Mitchell said that made the transition from coordinator to head coach even easier.

“The kids knew the structure of our offense and defense,” he said. “They knew the structure of our special teams. They knew how we practiced. They knew what we did. So, I didn’t have to come in and make a ton of overall changes. If I was having to come in as a new coach and install everything we wanted to do, I’m sure there would definitely be a sense of like, ‘Eh, I don’t know if I ready for this.’”

Junior safety Zach Breen, who played two seasons under Mitchell’s defensive tutelage, said his new head coach’s promotion gave the players a head start on the new season. Instead of having his players learn a whole new system, Mitchell picked up where Martin left off.

“It was great,” Breen said. “We didn’t have to learn a whole new system. We’ve been practicing the Grand Valley way. We didn’t change anything.”

And so, GVSU’s new leader has big shoes to fill. The Lakers captured four national championships in the past decade – two under Kelly and and two under Martin.

“I don’t think I’m in the shadow anymore,” he said. “I probably was in the past, but I’m now the head coach. The tradition that was established by Brian Kelly and Chuck Martin, we’ve maintained a lot of those same traditions. In my mind, I was working with Chuck and a lot of that staff and now that he’s gone, I’ve just stepped up to the front and now I’m working in conjunction with my staff to uphold the same traditions that we’ve had.”

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