A press release on Tuesday, Oct. 27, announced that Head Football Coach Mark Matlak plans to retire at the end of this season after 14 years at Allegheny College.
The announcement came three weeks prior to the end of the 2015 season. The news seemed sudden, according to some students.
“I have been coaching college football for 36 seasons,” Matlak said, reading word-for-word from the press release. “And it has been a passion. All coaches live in a competitive and stressful world, working to assist student-athletes to be the best they can be in school and on the field. Fortunately, I am healthy, and I plan to step away from that world to enjoy some quality time with my wife and son.”
Matlak looked up and continued in his own words.
“I just want to step away, need a change. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve done and it’s time to smell the roses,” Matlak said.
An Allegheny Hall of Famer, Matlak is retiring as the longest-tenured head coach in the college’s football program, having coached 66 All-NCAC honorees, 27 First Team All-NCAC picks and the first football player in Allegheny program history to be named NCAC Newcomer of the Year.
Maltak announced his retirement to the team after practice on Monday, Oct. 26. His last official day will be Jan. 4, 2016.
Several administrators from the athletics department declined requests for phone or in-person interviews. Athletic Director Portia Hoeg emailed her statement from the press release.
Monica Main, ’17, a videographer for the team, said the announcement came as a surprise to many of the team members.
“It’s easy to tell that the players are proud to be a part of his legacy and sad they won’t finish their careers under the guy that recruited them,” Main said.
Defensive lineman Chris Patrick, ’16, said for the younger team members the news came as more of a surprise than to the older players who have heard talk of Matlak’s retirement for a few years.
“I think to the team, yes, it came as a surprise, but to me not as much, maybe after this season,” said Zach Harvey, ’16, offensive lineman.
Matlak is a great mentor for the team and is supportive of everyone, Main said.
Tight end Nick Matic, ’17, agreed. He said Matlak’s coaching has greatly influenced him.
“I transferred here from OU [Ohio University] and from being a student there to a football player at Allegheny College is totally different,” Matic said. “It caused me to grow up a lot. There’s a lot more discipline. And he’s always giving us lessons after practice, pulling quotes out of books. He’s developed us a lot, not just as players but as people too. He makes that a point, to not just talk about football.”
Matic said something he likes about Matlak is the everyday conversations he has with players and how he goes about building connections with people.
“Half the time he doesn’t talk to you about football. He wants to know how your family’s doing. How are your parents. How are your classes,” Matic said. “He talks to you like you’re a regular person all the time and doesn’t really mention football all that much.”
Alumnus player Robert Taylor, ’05, echoed Matic’s statements about the relationships Matlak has built with his players.
“His ability to connect with you on a personal level, we are all driven to perform well for ourselves, the team and him,” Taylor said. “He commands a level of respect that makes you want to produce for him.”
Taylor played four years at Allegheny, including on the 2003 NCAC championship team, which continued to the NCAA DIII Playoffs. Taylor is a veteran of the Afghanistan war and is currently a staff sergeant with the 1st Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment, stationed in Fort Carson, Colorado.
“The most impactful moment of my time with Matlak was when my father died during the season,” Taylor said. “[Matlak] stepped up and provided that missing part of my life. He took good care of me and rallied the team around me. It is the most memorable thing in my life, him taking over the role of caring for me and becoming an emotional outlet for me.”
Matlak said his favorite part of coaching is interacting with the players and being on the field.
“Everything else pales in that comparison. The actual teaching and coaching on a daily basis is what’s fun about it,” Matlak said.
Matlak was inducted into the Allegheny Hall of Fame in 1989 and named NCAC Coach of the Year in 2003.
“I think that [my coaching strategy] has continually evolved,” Matlak said. “Each team has strengths and weaknesses and you take that and evolve based on your team, and hopefully I’ve done that 13 or 14 times.”
Offensive lineman John Hamblen, ’16, said Matlak was perfect in the position of head coach.
“As an alum and a hall of famer, you wouldn’t want anyone else in the position,” Hamblen said.
Patrick agreed with Hamblen, adding that Matlak is still passionate for football and loves the game but knows it is time for a change.
“I feel as though it was the perfect time for him,” Hamblen said. “We are sending him off with one more home game and that’s a big part of it. It will help us and feed off of the crowd and the team.”
As Matlak nears the end of his final season, he has advice for his team.
“I would say to make sure you place your priority on your future and get a quality education. Allegheny is affording you that right now,” Matlak said. “If you want to be good at something, you must have a passion, enthusiasm and invest your time, energy and effort to improve yourself on a daily basis.”
Taylor said Matlak is a believer in the Allegheny advantage and the education the college provides.
“He wants everyone to keep their grades up and took time to help you in your personal life so you could focus on athletics and academics,” Taylor said.
Matlak said he does not have plans for retirement at this point.
“I’m just looking forward to the last three weeks of concentrating on coaching the guys and the games,” Maltak said. “The games are fun. The preparation is the most fun. And the practices are great. I’m just going to enjoy that whole process for three more weeks.”
As the season comes to the end, the team is looking to win a game for Matlak.
“I’m looking forward to trying to get this win Saturday against Hiram,” Matic said. “Really that’s a must win. We haven’t won any home games this year and it’s going to be Coach Matlak’s last home game in Meadville. If we don’t win that, I don’t know, it’s gonna be a rough day after that. That’s my main focus right now.”
The team’s last home game will be Saturday, Oct. 31 at 5 p.m. against Hiram College.