Don Mathews

In 1960, after high school and three years in the Marines, Don bought a one-way bus ticket to come to the University of Idaho and walk on to the Vandal football team as a linebacker for coach Skip Stahley.

Fortunately, Matthews says, his experience in the Marines combined with his extra motivation to perform on the field paid off. After his first semester at Idaho he earned his scholarship, and took advantage of his opportunity to get his education while playing football.

By his senior season Don was a team captain under coach Dee Andros, and afterwards was only a few credits shy of graduation. So he accepted a coaching position as a graduate assistant in order to finish his degree and keep football part of his life, a decision that would shape Coach Matthew’s future as arguably the best football coach in Canadian Football League history.

“I coached a year and got my degree and now I had a choice of going out in the world and working, or finding a way to stay in football,” Matthews says. “Because I had the one year as a graduate assistant at the University of Idaho, they gave me that opportunity once again, and I loved it. So I decided to become a coach. I didn’t really decide to coach until I couldn’t play football anymore.”

Matthews’ next opportunity came when former Vandal Gene Bates took the head coaching position at Ely High School at Ely, Nev. Bates took Matthews with him to be his assistant coach for just over $5,000 a year. But Bates only stayed in Ely for one year before leaving, which left Matthews to take over as a head coach for the first time.

It took only three years for Don to post an undefeated season at Ely High School, and two more after that to do the same thing at Ferris High School at Spokane, Wash., before he returned to Idaho to coach the offensive line, and eventually become the offensive coordinator.

After his second stint on the Idaho coaching staff Matthews joined the high school ranks one more time, this time taking over the reins as the head coach at Sunset High School at Portland, Ore. In just two years, he turned Sunset into a state champion, and in his third season he led Sunset to an undefeated season and a second successive state championship.

Matthews’ success at Sunset allowed him his first professional opportunity. It was Hugh Campbell, a former Washington State Cougar, who asked Matthews to join his staff with the CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos. As with everywhere else, success found Matthews at Edmonton. In his six seasons as an assistant coach and defensive coordinator, Matthews went to the Grey Cup six times and came away with five rings.

“The Grey Cups I won as an assistant coach are every bit as important to me as the ones I one as a head coach,” Matthews said. “As an assistant, you have just as much, if not more of an impact on the outcome of the game.”

His first head coaching challenge came in 1983, with the B.C. Lions, where he continued to produce successful football teams. In just his third season in 1985, he led B.C. to the Grey Cup title while earning his first CFL Coach of the Year honor and posting a 13-3 record. That season got the ball rolling for his 22-season career, in which Matthews would head six CFL teams, go to 10 Grey Cups, win five with four teams, earn five CFL Coach of the Year awards, and amass a 231-133-1 record while coaching greats such as Doug Flutie and Warren Moon, before retiring as the CFL’s all-time winningest coach. Including his time as an assistant, Matthews won Grey Cups in the 1970s, ‘80s, ‘90s and 2000s.

Since his final season of coaching in 2008, Matthew’s wins record was broken by Wally Buono, another CFL coaching legend. Buono and Matthews are ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in nearly every CFL single-season and career coaching category.