A tribute to legendary coach Coak Matthews

Coach Mathews Collage

Henderson State Athletics and the Reddie family suffered a tremendous loss on Sunday when legendary former swimming and diving head coach Coak Matthews passed away at the age of 66. Matthews was one of the most decorated coaches in Henderson history and was at the helm of the Red Wave swimming and diving programs for 39 years.

Visitation will be at Second Baptist Church in Arkadelphia on Thursday, July 1, from 4-6 p.m. A memorial service will be held at the same location on Friday, July 2, at 11 a.m.

At the family’s request, memorial gifts may be made to the HSU Foundation designated to the Coak Matthews Scoreboard Fund, HSU Foundation, Box 7550, 1100 Henderson Street, Arkadelphia, AR 71999-0001. Gifts to this fund may be made at HSUsports.com/donate. Please select Coak Matthews Scoreboard Fund under "Designation."


Tribute from Red Wave Alumnus John Klein ('96, '00)

For 39 years Coak Matthews recruited the best and the brightest swimmers from across the country and globe to create a dynamic team of individuals. He was so many things to us swimmers beyond just a coach. He was an academic advisor, a mentor, a spiritual guide, a disciplinarian, a counselor, a parent and so much more. He created a special bond with each swimmer and made you feel special and a part of something unique. One would say, he fueled the Reddie Spirit within each swimmer and created the strong family bond that is the Red Wave. His bonus family of Red Wave swimmers through the years, and his family will miss him greatly. One of his favorite quotes was from Isaiah 40:31, a message that applies to so many things in life in and out of the water and has stuck with many of us swimmers to this day. As the Red Wave Team gathers from near and far, we ask that others touched by his work join us in celebrating the last leg of his amazing and purposeful race.

Coach Coak Matthews is pictured with his 1996 Red Wave Team who were crowned conference champs for the third straight year and for the seventh time in eight years since the program's inception in 1988-89. That year, the Red Wave men won 15 out of 20 events, and Red Wave Women won 14 out of 20 events, including breaking school records and one NSISL record. Along with their teammates are pictured John Klein (1st in Fourth Row) and Jodi Baker Coffee (4th in Second Row).

Tribute from Red Wave Alumna Jodi Baker Coffee ('98)

Coak has been a constant my whole life. Leading, pushing, guiding - in the pool and many other aspects. His Christ-centered approach was unwavering. He never mentioned accomplishment without giving God the glory. A fierce competitor with a gentle spirit. I will miss him dearly.

Tribute from Red Wave Alumna Vanessa Oehlers Smith ('07)

Coak never was one for attention, he wasn't one to boast. For years he diligently kept working, for the team he loved the most. You'd always find him praying and practicing what he would preach. Before meets and after he would be sure to include an inspirational speech. He truly cared for all his swimmers/divers no matter how fast or slow. He cared for us outside of the pool and would help nourish us to grow. A father figure to some and a dear friend to many others. Coak, you truly were a warrior and there will never be another. So thank you for always being there especially for those times when you didn't have to be. You've forever impacted so many hearts and homes, I just wish that you could see. it's hard not to be upset; it's hard not to cry, but we all know you've earned a front row seat next to the big guy!

Tribute from Red Wave Alumnus Don Smith ('08, '10)

I didn't truly understand why Coak cared so much about what I did outside of the pool. I figured if I gave it my all in the pool, then he would be happy. I now know he was so much more than a coach, he was a mentor and cared about everyone way beyond the pool and their life after swimming. I wish I could now look him in the eye and say, “Thank you for caring and pushing me beyond the pool. I would have never made it past my first year without your encouragement, passion and persistence towards my education.”

Tag Henderson State University Alumni on Facebook to share the impact that Coach Coak Matthews made on your life, or email us at alumni@hsu.edu.