Passages: Coak Matthews, Former Henderson State Swim Coach, 66

Photo Courtesy: Andy Ross

Former Henderson State swimming and diving head coach Coak Matthews passed away on Sunday at age 66.

Matthews led the Red Wave for 39 years. He retired from coaching full-time in April. A certified master-level coach by CSCAA, Matthews coached more than 200 All-Americans, including four individual national champions.

“We are heartbroken and devastated for Mary, Blanton, William and Sallie at the tragic news today,” Director of Athletics Shawn Jones said in a press release. “Coak Matthews was and is a Reddie legend. His impact on the Henderson State campus, thousands of Red Wave student-athletes and this community is immeasurable. We encourage everyone in the Red Wave, Henderson and Arkadelphia communities to surround the Matthews family during this difficult time and help give back to the man who gave all of us so much of himself. Coak will be deeply missed, but his legacy will live on forever and will be felt for generations to come.”

Matthews led Henderson State to top-10 finishes at the NAIA Championships and NCAA Division II Championships, for both the men’s and women’s teams. Matthews was the 1990 CSCAA National Diving Coach of the Year and the 1994 NAIA National Men’s Swimming and Diving Coach of the Year.

He was inducted to the Arkansas Swimming Hall of Fame in 1995 and the Henderson State Athletic Hall of Honor in 2003.

“My heart is heavy with the news of Coach Matthews’ passing,” current Henderson State swim coach Scotty Serio said. “Coak was an integral part of our community and will be a dearly missed mentor, confidant, and role model. We can’t express enough thanks and gratitude to the Matthews family for sharing such a great godly man with so many of us during a crucial time in our lives. There are no words to express our sorrow, but Coak’s legacy will live on in this program and will serve as a guiding example of what it means to be a part of this team and this community.”

Matthews’ work was felt throughout the region in Arkansas. He also coached at Arkadelphia High from 1983-2005, winning a pair of state titles on the girls side in 1986 and 1987. He also organized summer clinics and taught swimming lessons at camps throughout Southwest Arkansas.

“Coak Matthews was a legend in every sense of the word, and his passing leaves a huge void in our university and in our lives,” Arkansas State University System President and former Henderson State University president Dr. Charles Welch said. “He always put his family and his student-athletes first, and his drive and commitment were unmatched. We were blessed by his service, and his legacy will continue to live on through the Red Wave swimming program and through his beautiful family.”

Matthews is survived by his wife of 36 years, Mary, and three children, Sallie, William and Blanton.

“On behalf of Henderson State University, I want to extend our heartfelt condolences to his wife Mary, their children and family, and to all who knew and loved Coak Matthews,” Henderson State chancellor Dr. Jim Borsig said. “He was a legendary coach of the Red Wave and he positively influenced the lives of countless Reddies. Coach Matthews was beloved by all who knew him and he loved this university. Above all, he loved his family. Please keep the Matthews family in your thoughts and prayers as they mourn the loss of a beloved husband and father.”