ARKADELPHIA — After nearly four decades at the helm of Henderson State’s swimming and diving programs, head coach Coak Matthews has announced his retirement. Matthews will stay on staff at Henderson State in a part-time role as the Director of Aquatics and Operations.
One of the most decorated coaches in Henderson State history, Matthews’ first season with the Red Wave came in 1982-83 and his coaching tenure has spanned 39 years. During his illustrious run as the front man for the men’s and women’s programs, Matthews led HSU to a remarkable 24 AIC and NSISC conference championships and was named conference coach of the year 15 times.
“Coak Matthews has dedicated his professional life to the Henderson State swimming and diving programs, and has mentored thousands of student-athletes during his decorated career,” Director of Athletics Shawn Jones said. “His list of accolades and accomplishments is staggering, but as impressive as his results in the pool are, equally as important to his legacy is what an incredible mentor, role model and teacher he has been for his teams. His service to not just Henderson State, but to this community, is remarkable. I’m so thrilled that Coak is going to continue to assist the program and the new head coach in his part-time role as Director of Aquatics and Operations. I’m also happy for his family, which has played such a big part in his career, to get to enjoy some well-earned time together away from the rigors of competition. We look forward to celebrating coach Matthews and his hall of fame career in the fall during alumni weekend, when we are hopeful that many of the countless alumni he has coached can celebrate with us.”
A certified master level coach by the College Swimming Coaches Association, Matthews has coached over 200 All-Americans, four individuals who won national championships and has led both the men’s and women’s programs at Henderson State to numerous Top-10 national finishes at the NAIA and NCAA II levels of competition. Matthews, who was named the CSCAA National Diving Coach of the Year in 1990 and the NAIA National Men’s Swimming and Diving Coach of the Year in 1994, was inducted into the Arkansas Swimming Hall of Fame in 1995 and the Henderson State Athletic Hall of Honor in 2003.
“Who could have imagined in 1982 when I was put in contact with Mickey O’Quinn, the athletic director at Henderson State — a school I had never heard of — that almost 39 remarkable years later I would now be looking back with fond memories as I retire. It has been a wild and glorious ride. During my tenure, I’ve been blessed to work with so many wonderful people; from coaches, to seven different presidents and athletic directors, to our marvelous student-athletes. I’m very appreciative of Shawn Jones for his incredible leadership and support over the last seven years. I would also like to thank Shawn, along with Dr. Jim Borsig and Rita Fleming, for providing me the opportunity to continue serving in a part-time capacity as the Director of Aquatics and Operations.
Prior to coming to Henderson, I had several different coaching opportunities in front of me, but after 39 years of being able to work for this university and in this community, I believe with all my heart that I made the right choice. I always recruited and coached as if the results depended on me and how hard I worked, but through prayer and His wisdom, Jesus blessed me with an amazing, successful career coaching our student-athletes in the pool. It was important to me that I taught them life lessons and helped prepare them to make a difference in the world once they left our campus. I pray these goals have been achieved for all the amazing young people who crossed paths with me. The biggest blessing of coming to Arkadelphia was meeting my wonderful, supportive wife, Mary, and raising our three beautiful children, who are all now Reddies, in this great place to call home. I am very grateful to The Lord Jesus for allowing me this incredible opportunity at ‘The School with a Heart.'”
A 1973 graduate of Memorial High School in Houston, Texas and a 1977 graduate of the University of Arkansas, Matthews got his start as the head coach of the Houston Swim Club in 1978. After serving as the head coach of the Quail Valley Athletic Club from 1979-1982, Matthews came to Henderson State and has been a fixture in the athletic department ever since.
Matthews’ positive impact on the program was felt almost instantly upon his arrival, as the Red Wave men won five AIC championships between 1983 and 1988. In 1989, Matthews restarted the women’s program at Henderson and from 1989 to 1997, the men’s team won nine-consecutive league titles, while the women won conference championships in 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1998. The most recent titles for Matthews and HSU came as a member of the NSISC, which the men won in 2005 and the women clinched in 2012.
Individually, Matthews coached Henderson State’s first ever diving All-American, Don Mixon, and the first swimming All-American, David Haynes. Under Matthews’ tutelage, Mixon earned All-American honors in the 1-meter and 3-meter events at the 1983 NAIA national championships and was an Honorable Mention All-American again in 1984. Haynes was named a First Team All-American in the pool in 1986, becoming the first individual in program history to earn First Team honors in both the 200-yard individual medley and 200-yard breaststroke.
Matthews also coached the two most decorated swimmers in program history, Bobby Cullen and Scott Hanshaw, who were both four-time NAIA All-Americans. Cullen and Hanshaw combined to win eight individual national championships from 1989-1992 and helped lead the Red Wave to the program’s highest-ever national ranking of No. 3 in 1991. Mixon, Cullen and Hanshaw are all in HSU’s Athletic Hall of Honor alongside Matthews.
In the NCAA era, which began in 1993, Matthews was responsible for the program’s first two national champions when Emre Celik won the 200-yard backstroke in both 2005 and 2006, and Zach Interrante won the 100-yard butterfly title in 2010.
The excellence in the pool for Henderson State during Matthews’ tenure is perhaps only overshadowed by its success in the classroom. Under his steady hand, the Red Wave men and women combined to earn nearly 100 CSCAA All-Academic Team awards and produce hundreds of Academic All-Americans.
An icon of the sport in the state of Arkansas, Matthews’ impact exceeded far beyond the walls of the Wells Natatorium. In addition to his work at HSU, Matthews served as the swim coach at Arkadelphia High School from 1983 to 2005, where he led the Lady Badgers to state titles in 1986 and 1987.
While at Arkadelphia High, Matthews helped develop Lady Badger-great Nancy Duncan, who went on to be named a three-time NCAA All-American at the University of Arkansas and competed in the 1988 Olympic Trials in the 50-yard freestyle.
Outside of competition, Matthews has dedicated much of his time to advancing the sport of swimming in Arkadelphia and the surrounding community. Throughout his career, Matthews has taught and organized swimming lessons, summer All-Star clinics, and camps in Southwest Arkansas.
Plans to celebrate Matthews have been set for alumni weekend on Oct. 22-23 in the Garrison Center grand ballroom. Details on the event will be released at a later date.
Those who would like to make a donation to the swimming and diving programs in honor of Matthews are encouraged to go to hsusports.com/donate and select “Coak Matthews Swim Scoreboard Fund.” All proceeds will go towards a new scoreboard in the Wells Natatorium that will be named in Matthews’ honor.
“The scoreboard project is very near and dear to my heart,” Matthews said. “This is something that will really benefit the program. I am so honored and appreciative of the recognition it will include and I hope the alumni and friends of Red Wave swimming and diving will feel led to support this need as a way of celebrating the past, present and future of the Red Wave.”
A national search for the next head coach of the Henderson State swimming and diving programs will begin immediately.
Statement from Dr. Charles Welch, Arkansas State University System President and Former President of Henderson State University:
“It’s hard to imagine Henderson athletics without the legendary Coak Matthews. His commitment to the Reddies through the years has been extraordinary, and he has positively impacted the lives of so many student-athletes over the past four decades. We appreciate his leadership in Henderson athletics, and his part-time role will be invaluable during the aquatics program transition.”
Statement from Dr. Jim Borsig, Chancellor of Henderson State University:
“Coak Matthews is an icon of Henderson State and a true Reddie legend. Coak’s well-earned legacy of excellence both in and out of the pool is a testament to his character and enduring commitment to the Red Wave and the university. We are so grateful for his nearly four decades of exemplary service and look forward to seeing him continue with us in his part-time role as the Director of Aquatics and Operations.”