CHICO — Pete Mathiesen was known as a coach who had a mindset of, “my way or the highway,” but his former players said that his most important trait was his ability to communicate — on the court, on the sideline, around campus, and even after players had graduated and started families.
Mathiesen, a former Chico State men’s basketball coach who coached the Wildcats from 1970-1987, died Feb. 12. He was 85.
Mathiesen was born in Marysville and graduated from Fremont High School, later earning his bachelor’s degree from Humboldt State, his master’s from San Jose State University and his doctorate from the University of Sarasota. After coaching at the high school and junior college levels for 11 years, Mathiesen began his time at Chico State in 1970.
With Chico State, he led the Wildcats to 243 victories, five conference titles, took two teams the the NCAA Division II regional playoffs and was ranked nationally on two separate occasions. Mathiesen was named the conference’s coach of the year four times.
Upon speaking with former players of Mathiesen’s such as Mike Wysong, Steve Connolly, Wayne Burden and John Mottran, one thing all the players re-iterated about Mathiesen was his ability to connect with his players. This was not just for the two or four years that a player played for him, but for their lifetime. Multiple players said that Mathiesen would routinely call in and check in on them, their families, their kids and ask about former players of his.
Wysong and Connolly would have coffee with Mathiesen on a weekly basis, play golf with him or go to local high school or college basketball games in Butte County.
“It was just something he sought out,” Connolly said. “Every time we met and talked, he’d say ‘I just talked to so and so this week.’ Or this person gave me a call. He’d jump all around his 17 year career at Chico State with the people he knew and with people that knew him in Australia where he also coached.”
This relationship was the same for players Mathiesen coached, for players he cut, or for players like Mottran — who first met the coach going to basketball camps in seventh and eighth grade and who rode the bench for most of his collegiate career. When Mottran saw that his playing days were coming to an end, Mathiesen offered him a spot as the team’s sports information director to let him stay involved in the game.
“I just think Pete was unique as an educator just because he was broad based. As a basketball coach you wouldn’t think that,” Wysong said. “He was broad based with the whole school. I know guys that were football, baseball, swimmers, water polo players that would go into Pete’s office to ask for advice because they didn’t know what their coach was telling them or they weren’t getting along with their coach. That’s the kind of relationship he had with the student body. He’s just a very great man.”
Mottran randomly showed up at a coffee meeting with Wysong, Connolly and Mathiesen in September and the stories began to flow. Wysong had let Mottran know that Mathiesen was beginning to lose his memory, and Mottran was in Chico the next week to surprise his former coach. Mathiesen was stunned at seeing his former player, and once he realized who it was the four had a tremendous weekend together.
“I never really expressed to him that this is a big change in my life. Like where do I really go in the afternoon?” Mottran said. “He sensed that and he just offered me a chance to stay connected. He didn’t have to do it, I don’t think he even needed it, but it gave me a way to stay connected. I don’t think he realizes how much I enjoyed that.”
After Mathiesen’s retirement from coaching at Chico State, Mathiesen continued teaching physical education at Chico State to students who include current Chico State men’s basketball head coach Greg Clink. Mathiesen continued to lead basketball coaching clinics and take short-term coaching positions, which Connolly said he believes was primarily because Mathiesen loved working with and meeting new people.
Clink took classes from Mathiesen such as coaching theory and coaching management, amongst others, which he said were some of his favorites.
“Out of all the classes I took, that was one I was early to because I wanted to get a front row seat,” Clink said. “He had so many great stories, experiences and knew so many people in the coaching world so just to sit and listen to him and gain knowledge from somebody that was experienced as Coach Mathiesen for a guy in his early 20s that wanted to become a basketball coach was just a treat for me.”
Clink and Mathiesen re-kindled their friendship after the start of Clink’s coaching career when Clink came back to Chico to take over the Wildcats’ basketball program. The two met for coffee at Great Harvest Bread Company several times a year and the two would talk about how the camaraderie amongst coaches has changed throughout the years.
In Mathiesen’s coaching days it was normal for the visiting coach to have dinner with the home team’s coach and share ideas the day prior. Clink said coaches nowadays are much more secretive of what they do and don’t want to share knowledge with competitors, and that was different when Mathiesen was coaching.
“I’m honored to be the head coach here at Chico State and and spoken like guys such as him, like Puck Smith and Art Acker,” Clink said. “Just to be spoken in the same breath as Pete Mathiesen is an honor.”
For both Mottran and Burden, Mathiesen’s basketball knowledge, the way he treated each and every one of his players and the connections he maintained were stood out the most about their former coach.
Connolly said what he remembers most of Mathiesen is that he always stood beside his players in whatever endeavors they were taking on, whether that be on the basketball court, in the classroom or in the community or seeking employment. For Connolly that included his jump shot at times, his hook shot or getting coaching experience at Chico State as an assistant for six years before landing a head basketball coaching job at Hamilton High School upon his return from playing in Australia.
For Wysong, who was one of the closest with Mathiesen in his final days, he said, “probably a better man and just a great, great friend.
“Everyone I called and told him what was going on, they all just said what a great great man. Sorry for our loss.”
A celebration of life for Mathiesen is scheduled for 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday, March 12 at Lakeside Pavilion off of Bruce Road Park in Chico. Wysong, Connolly and a plethora of other former players and coaches are scheduled to be in attendance. The ceremony is open to the public.
“I think the biggest thing is he’s got players that are going to come in for his celebration of life from Alabama, North Carolina, New York. There’s at least eight or nine guys flying in for this,” Wysong said. “I think that’s just a huge testimony of who Pete is and what people really think. For most of these guys it’s been 45 years since they were at Chico State, but they still think that highly of the man to come and pay their respects.”