The WLAF scored a coup when the Orlando Thunder was able to lure longtime firebrand head coach Don Matthews to the league. It immediately gave the league some credo in its attempts to stave off the future CFL invasion into the USA.
After spending time in the military, Matthews had some stints coaching at the high school and college level before emerging in the CFL in 1977. There he joined the Edmonton Eskimos led by coach Hugh Campbell and quarterback Warren Moon. The team went on to win 5 consecutive Grey Cup Championships before Don was hired to coach the British Columbia Lions. He’d turn the doormat into a Grey Cup contender, marking their first appearance in some 20 odd years. The Don brought the cup home to the Lions in 1985 as he won his first coach of the year honor. His teams always employed a smash mouth defensive style and his players loved to ‘walk the way he walked’. He coached the Lions through 1987, before his stint in the WLAF in 1990.
Don’s 1990 team was uncharacteristic of his CFL entries. The team had a powerful offense led by Kerwin Bell, but their defense was trashed by most teams, leading to a 5-5 record in Matthews’ only season in Orlando. Don returned to the CFL after the season and coached for the Argos, before hopping over to Saskatchewan through 1993. As the CFL invaded the US market Matthews became the head coach of the Baltimore Colts/ Stallions. He’d earn coach of the year honors back to back as the Stallions won the Grey Cup. Don returned to the Toronto Argonauts from 1996-1998, before sweeping back to the Esks from 1999-2000. Again in 1997 this time, The Don earned another coach of the year honor as his team won back to back championships in 96 and 97. He’d be best remembered by many fans for his time in Montreal guiding the Alouettes, – a team that lived and played as hard as Matthews did, to another championship in 2002. After a year off from the sport, Matthews coached one more season in 2008 for Toronto. His 231 wins are only second to Wally Buono in CFL history.
Living in Oregon, Don has handled anxiety most of his coaching career. He was inducted into the CFL Hall of Fame in 2011 as a ‘League Builder’. A special thanks to DemonXXX on the sportscollectors.net message board for helping me find this one.
WLAF W 5 L 5 T 0 Pct .500
CFL W 231 L 133 T 1 Pct .633
UPDATE 6/14/17– CFL Hall of Fame coach Don Matthews passed away today at the age of 77, after a 4 year battle with cancer.