Another legendary coach has passed away.
Art Mathis, who spent better part of four decades coaching football and teaching at Manteca High, died Sunday. He was 85.
He’s remembered for being an awesome position coach and great teacher of the game — in particular, the defensive line.
“He was ‘old school,’” said Jeff Tilton, who was both a player and colleague of Mathis. “He had a great sense of humor and no problem making you the butt of his jokes (because he cared about you).”
Art Mathis, early in his career, was head coach of several small schools throughout greater northern California.
He came to Manteca via legendary Buffaloes coach, Walker Vick, in the late 1960s. They had met at a coaching convention.
“I was familiar with (small-town football) but there was something different about the Valley Oak League,” Mathis told The Bulletin in 2017. “At the time, Tracy High was Manteca’s biggest rival, and then St. Mary’s and Lincoln from Stockton — things were much different then.”
Manteca was also a one-school town back then and the only game on Friday nights backed by most of the community. That began to change when East Union High opened.
“He was a great storyteller,” said Eric Reis, who became the program’s winningest coach. “He and (Walker) Vick had such passion for the game.”
As a freshman, he had Mathis as his Health teacher. He also taught Driver’s Ed.
“(Coach Mathis) was special in that he knew all about (the Buffaloes) tradition,” Reis said. “I tried to carry that on.”
Added Tilton: “Coach Mathis loved tradition and he loved keeping tradition alive, especially with the MHS / East Union rivalry when there were two schools in town.”
One such tradition was the football helmet awards for players — star awards for offensive achievements, skull awards for defense achievements, hatchet awards for special team achievements, and small football awards for victories.
“Those same awards and categories, because of Coach Mathis’ emphasis on tradition, I carried forward to the inaugural Delta Charter School football program in 2017,” said Tilton, noting that current Dragon coach Johnny Griggs, an MHS grad, continues that tradition.
He shared fond memories of Mathis during his playing days for the Buffaloes during the 1977 and 1978 seasons.
“He always fun at practices and games,” said Tilton, who used that same psychology approach employed by Mathis to prepare for opponents as a player in college and a coach at MHS during the 1980s and ‘90s, and Delta Charter.
MHS is steeped in tradition thanks to Mathis. He coached alongside the likes of Jim Brown, Butch Linn, Mick Founts, Greg Leland, Jack Thomson, Todd Vick (Walker Vick’s son), Bob Lee, Joe Jacobs, and Joe Miller, to name a few.
The list of his players turned coaches is equally impressive.
“When I heard of coach Mathis’ passing, it was a kick in the gut,” Tilton said. “He, like all of my football coaches at MHS, appeared immortal.
“He was a gentleman’s gentleman.”
Mathis, who may have appeared gruff to some, was loved by many and had the biggest heart.
“He was one of a kind, for sure,” Tilton added. “He loved MHS and his students, and especially (the school colors) forest green and white.”