As I headed into work on Sept. 7, I checked my e-mail one last time before jumping in the car.
High up in the inbox was an email from my alma mater, Marian Catholic High School, an email I had been expecting at some point but, just the same, was not ready to receive.
Dave Mattio, Marian’s longtime athletic director and former football coach, had died after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
I can’t say I was good friends with Mattio by any means, but the news still hit me like a brick.
My dad, Gerry, started working at Marian Catholic in 1990 and is still there as the director of college counseling. I grew up attending Marian athletic events and any number of other school-related events.
When I started writing for the Daily Southtown in 2007, I was always pleased to have a Marian-related sports team on my schedule.
A constant presence throughout—whether it was me tagging along with my dad as a kid or as a sports writer covering football, volleyball and any number of other sports—was Dave Mattio.
His presence commanded attention. He looked like a football coach. He sounded like a football coach. However, he was more than that.
Mattio was always accommodating, always welcoming and always helpful whenever needed.
A Marian alumnus from 1966, Mattio returned to Marian Catholic in 1971. He was the athletic director by 1974 and the head varsity football coach by 1976. The long list of students, athletes, coaches, parents, friends and family he impacted over the years would take a column much longer than this for them to tell their stories.
I imagine just about everyone who ever met Mattio would have a story or two or 10 about the longtime football coach. My favorite was never in doubt.
While working for the Southtown in 2009, I covered the Spartans clinching a playoff berth with a Week-6 victory over East Suburban Catholic Conference rival Nazareth Academy. I was on the sidelines with reporters from several other media outlets and couldn’t help but eavesdrop on their conversations.
They either had not covered Marian much or had no previous reason to talk to Mattio. Needless to say, some nerves were evident as they prepped to interview the imposing presence that was Coach Mattio.
Then during a break in the action, Mattio approached me as two other reporters stood nearby. He put his hand on my shoulder, shook my hand with the other and in his gruff, deep voice said, “Tim, how are you? Thanks for coming out. Glad to have a Spartan on the sideline with us.”
I smiled, answered “Thanks, Coach” and let him get back to the game.
I wish I had a picture of the faces of the other reporters. Their worries or nerves were obviously unfounded.
Win or lose, Mattio was always willing to talk. After a hard-fought win over Crete-Monee the next season, he gave me one of my all-time favorite sports quotes, commenting that the opposing Warriors had some “hellacious athletes who were just all over the field.”
If he looked mean, imposing or intimidating, he simply wasn’t. For years, he was the face of the football program, the athletic department and the high school.
And if you ask all those former athletes, opposing coaches, referees, officials, students, faculty, friends and family, they will have their own personal stories of the coach who is a member of the Illinois Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
The outpouring of posts on Twitter and Facebook has put a smile on my face as I read one after another story about him. Marian Catholic hosted a get-together this past June for alums and friends and family to come out and visit with Coach Mattio. I was unable to attend because of work; I wish I could have been there.
As I interviewed coaches for The Beverly Review Fall Sports and Academics Preview, I asked how Mattio was doing and heard what no one wanted to hear. He wasn’t doing well.
I’m not sure if the shock of his death has fully set in yet. Maybe it won’t for quite a while. I just know it will be incredibly odd not seeing him on the sidelines or taking pictures for the Web site or fixing a problem at the front gate.
Coach Mattio, you will be missed.