IU’s Michigan Men focused on beating Wolverines

A decade ago at Michigan, Mike DeBord was the teacher.

Mike Hart, a star running back, and Nick Sheridan, a backup quarterback, were among his pupils.

Today, the three men are coaching contemporaries at Indiana, where DeBord holds the same role as offensive coordinator and Hart (running backs) and Sheridan (quarterbacks) serve as assistants. This past off-season, DeBord pushed to hire both of his former players in part because of the work ethic and knowledge they displayed with the Wolverines years ago.

But those memories from Ann Arbor are on hold this week.

With Indiana’s homecoming matchup with Michigan scheduled for noon Saturday, the three men aren’t reminiscing about the past.

They want to beat Michigan, and together they spent Monday compiling the game plan they believe can challenge the nation’s top-ranked defense.

“We just don’t have the time to sit around and talk about old times,” DeBord said Monday afternoon. “That’s just not part of it. When Nick and Mike came here, I told them why I wanted them here and it went back to those Michigan days. But we haven’t really talked about that since then.”

Of course, the shared experience at Michigan is a central reason why both Hart and Sheridan landed on DeBord’s offensive staff this past offseason.

DeBord was in charge of special teams and recruiting coordination when Hart arrived on Michigan’s campus in 2004, and spent his second stint as Michigan offensive coordinator during Hart’s junior and senior seasons.

Since then, DeBord has long admired Hart’s toughness and team-first attitude. When IU lost running backs coach Deland McCullough to Southern California in March, head coach Tom Allen asked DeBord for his recommendation on a replacement.

“I told him Mike Hart and I told him why,” DeBord said. “Mike Hart’s always been loyal to me. When you’re in this business, you gotta have loyal people around you when you’re coaching, especially as a coordinator. That’s what that relationship was. We always stayed in contact, either with a text or occasionally a call or something. But he was always there for me if I needed him, and vice versa.”

Already, Hart has made his presence felt as a recruiter for the Hoosiers. Last month, he helped secure a verbal commitment from four-star Virginia running back Ronnie Walker, the highest-ranked prospect in IU’s 2018 signing class.

For years, Sheridan has also demonstrated qualities DeBord believed would translate well to a full-time coaching job. For one, Sheridan comes from a coaching family.

Sheridan’s father, Bill, also worked alongside DeBord as Michigan’s defensive line coach in 2004 and is currently the linebackers coach for the Detroit Lions.

During the past two years at Tennessee, where he was previously offensive coordinator, DeBord received an up-close view of Sheridan’s advanced approach to offensive administration.

Although Sheridan was merely a graduate assistant for the Volunteers, DeBord placed great trust in his former player.

“I had the role of coordinator and quarterback coach (but) quarterback coach lasted one day in the spring,” DeBord said. “Then, after that, I was down with the line the rest of the time. Nick took over the quarterback meetings and preparation out on the field as a graduate assistant. What I saw him do in two years with Josh Dobbs was remarkable. Again, another great person. Very loyal to me. Those are the kinds of guys that you want around you.”

Now in Bloomington, the trio has been challenged to bring greater consistency to Indiana’s offense.

This week, that objective leaves little time for reminiscing.

“It’s definitely business,” said Hart, who previously coached against his alma mater while on Eastern Michigan’s staff in 2011. “… It affects everybody else more on the outside than it actually affects us because we know we have a job to do. That’s what we’re here for.”

Said Sheridan: “We care about our players here and we’re focused on trying to give them the best opportunity to be successful on Saturday. All of our efforts and attention are on those guys that are going to be on the field and competing. So we’re doing our part to give them the best chance to be successful.”