Don Matthews: a Legend that Will not Fade

Don Matthews ended his coaching career in 2008 with eight straight losses. He was hired to helm an already struggling Toronto squad after Rich Stubler stepped down. It’s unlikely that anyone, even Don Matthews, could have turned the team around.

So his career didn’t end on a high. But that last season is notable because out of twenty-two seasons as a head coach, that was only the second season where Matthews had a losing record. He was, as others have noted, a walking, talking contradiction.

Elite of Elite Coaches

In fact, very few coaches can boast a record anything like Matthews’. He’s tied for most Grey Cup wins (at five) and Grey Cup appearances (at nine). He also sits second all-time for CFL wins, and eighth all-time for total gridiron football wins (USA and Canada, pro and college). He also worked as defensive coordinator for each of the 1980-84 Edmonton Eskimos dynasty teams – and he has a total of ten Grey Cup rings to show for it. He’s the very elite of elite coaches.

What’s even more interesting is that he racked up these many wins and successful seasons on a wide selection of different CFL teams. His longest stints were BC at the beginning of his head coaching career (1983-87), and Montreal at the end of it (2002-06). In addition to Toronto, BC, and Montreal, he also coached Saskatchewan, Baltimore, and Edmonton. His five Grey Cup wins were spread among four different teams.

This wasn’t a guy who had a chance to build a dynasty. He came in, won football games, and departed.

Volatile Personality

But he was as volatile as a personality as he was successful as a coach. The players loved him: we was a players’ coach before anyone ever heard of such a thing. And the tributes pouring in since his death have included many of the biggest stars from three solid decades of Canadian football.

Many say that we’ll never see the likes of Don Matthews again, and they’re right. His mark on the league wasn’t just in the numbers. The personality, the brazenness, the quarrels with the media, the trash-talking of opposing teams. This was no gentleman.

Don Matthews passed away yesterday of pneumonia after a four-year battle with cancer. His loss is a loss for all Canadian football fans. But his mark on the league will not fade.

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