On May 1, Pascagoula lost a community icon when Bill Matthews passed away. Bill was well known for being Pascagoula High School’s winningest football coach of all time. He was, indeed, an outstanding football coach, but he was much more than that.
I first knew of Bill when I got to Ole Miss and he was a starting wide receiver on the football team. Known then as “Indian” (due to his proud Native American heritage), he was a popular guy around campus and a very good football player. When Ole Miss played Tennessee in Knoxville in a Top 20 matchup in 1966, Bill caught the winning touchdown pass for the Rebels.
My next encounter with Bill was in 1986, when he was named Head Coach at PHS. Alan Bush, his teammate and close friend at Ole Miss and then a prominent local businessman, gathered a few of us local Rebel alums to meet Bill and welcome him to the Coast (he had been a Delta boy through and through, originally from Benoit and previously coaching in Cleveland). Right off the bat, you could tell that Bill was going to fit in just fine here in Goula.
Famously, the Panther team that Bill led in 1987 was one of the best teams in the history of Mississippi high school football. Pascagoula went 14-0, won the state championship, and finished ranked #12 in the USA Today national high school football poll. An extra note: in addition to plowing through the brutal district schedule and the state playoffs, the Panthers beat out of state powers Theodore (AL) 29-0 and Escambia (FL) 17-0.
But wait—here’s the rest of the story. In Bill’s first year at PHS, he ran an I-formation, run-based offense that had been very successful for him at Cleveland. Result: the Panthers went 3-7.
Seeing that 5-A football on the Coast was a different animal at the time, Bill knew that he had to change something. His son Shane, also his quarterback, was an excellent passer and only average runner. His last team at Cleveland had included two running backs who went on to Ole Miss, one to the pros. Such was not on the roster here.
So Bill called his good friend Archie Manning (you may have heard of him), and said, “I want to throw the ball around some—who should I talk to?” Archie said “I got a guy”, and put him in touch with Lynn Amadee, a respected college offensive coordinator, then Bill took his staff to go study with Amadee for a week in the summer. They came back and installed a totally new offense for PHS, and, combined with a terrific defense, the rest, as they say, is history. That, my friends, is what you call excellent, enlightened coaching.
Enough for now about Bill and football, though. I want to talk about what a truly good guy he was and how positive he was for our community. He didn’t do the latter alone, of course. Bill’s first wife Peggy, who passed away in 1992, and his second soul mate Daphne were/are two of the best English teachers I have ever met. Bill had a type, I guess, and it was a very good one.
Bill was a great story teller, and he had a bunch of ‘em to tell. Each year at our neighborhood Christmas party, I would make sure to get him rolling, and he would regale us with funny and poignant vignettes well into the night.
You know that term “players’ coach”? Bill could have been the poster boy for that. He was a tough and discipline-oriented coach, but he loved his kids and they loved him back. Long after his coaching days and their playing days, there was always a steady stream of his ex- players coming by his house for advice, counsel, and just to visit.
What I’ll miss most about Bill is that ready grin, the twinkle in his eye, and his ability to connect with so many of us around the community.
So, yeah, he was a damn good football coach. He gave us the 14-0 year, the big trophy, and the 75-51 overall record. He brought along so many talented ballplayers. Heck, Shane and Terrell Buckley both finished in the top ten voting for the Heisman Trophy in 1991—let’s see another high school pull that off. Most importantly of all, he developed young men and gave them a good start as they headed off into their lives.
So, Bill, glad you caught that ball against UT, and thanks for all you did coaching up our beloved Panthers. Thanks most of all for being such a good friend to many of us, and for making the Pascagoula community all the better for your presence.
Richard Lucas may be contacted at [email protected]