It’s a good thing Dave Mattio is staying on as athletic director at Marian Catholic even as he steps down as the school’s football coach.
Because it would be pretty strange to go to a game in Chicago Heights next fall and not see Mattio in some capacity at the school he’s devoted his working life to.
Mattio announced his resignation on Sunday after 42 seasons on the football staff at his alma mater, the last 37 as head coach. But it sounds more like a retirement.
“I’m too old to go anywhere else [to coach],” said Mattio, who’s 64.
If this is indeed the end of his coaching run, Mattio can look back on it as a job well done for a very long time. The numbers are impressive: a 251-141 record (.640 winning percentage), 22 consecutive .500 or better seasons (31 overall), seven conference titles, 20 trips to the IHSA playoffs, a state title in 1993 and a runner-up finish in 1999. And don’t forget the four NFL players he coached: Dennis Kelly, a current member of the Philadelphia Eagles; Loyola coach John Holecek (Buffalo, San Diego, Atlanta), Rodney Harrison (San Diego, New England) and Mike Prior (Tampa Bay, Indianapolis, Green Bay).
But the stats don’t tell the whole story. The enduring image of Mattio’s long and successful tenure is one of the family atmosphere around the Marian program.
One of the perks of covering a game there was getting a gum ball at the end of the night from Dave’s dad Americo, known to all as Pops. “My mom [Leonora] and dad, who are both still alive … taught me so many things about life,” Mattio said.
So did Jody, “my best friend, my wife,” who until a few days ago was asking Mattio if this was really what he wanted to do.
And don’t forget about his five kids and 14 grandchildren, who grew up around Marian Catholic football. Mattio’s two sons, Josh and Jamie, both played for him and Josh coached with him for a year.
Even the people who weren’t related by blood were like family to Mattio, long-time assistants like Bob Bergstrom and Ron Guagenti (who returned this season for old times’ sake before moving to Arizona), along with current Lockport coach Don McKillip and Tim Swanson.
The past couple of years have been tough for the Spartans, whose last playoff berth came in 2010. They were 4-5 a year ago, 1-8 this fall in a Murphy’s Law season that saw the depth chart decimated with injuries at the skill positions.
The final roster numbers also were down: about 45 on the varsity, just 16 on the sophomores, 33 on the freshmen.
Mattio, as is his style, takes responsibility for the recent downturn. “At some point in time, you realize it’s time [to step down],” he said. “You’re either part of the solution or the problem. It’s probably time for a young person.”
He’s probably being too hard on himself. Private schools everywhere are feeling the pinch from the recession and there’s only so much one person can do about it, even if the one person is synonymous with the school.
Now the task of rebuilding Marian football passes to someone else and Mattio will focus on the coming winter season as A.D. and on his grandkids’ various activities.
But it’s comforting to know next fall that Mattio still will be a presence at Marian Catholic football games, even if he’s not wearing a head set or calling plays.