This year, Mathews helped lead Matanzas to a 6-4 record and a playoff berth while fielding one of the best defenses in the area.
The Matanzas Pirates finally have their next football coach. All they had to do was look inward.
Nearly two months after then-head coach Robert Ripley — the winningest coach in school history — resigned, the school hired defensive coordinator Don Mathews as the Pirates' next head coach, according to Matanzas Athletics Director Zach Rigney.
Rigney said over 85 candidates were considered before the list was narrowed down to six.
“When you interview candidates, you look for, obviously, someone who has the best interest of the kids, but you’re also looking for someone who’s passionate about what they do,” he said. “I don’t think football is a job to coach Mathews. I think it’s just a way of life. He lives it, breathes it, sleeps it and eats it. So when we found out he was interested in the position, I got excited because I know he’s a passionate guy, and he understands not only Matanzas, but Flagler County and the community.”
For Mathews, whose last head coaching gig was with Indian Trails Middle School’s eighth-grade team in 2011, finally joining the high school head coaching ranks has been a surreal experience.
“I've been working hard for years, and I've always had the dream of being the head coach for a high school team,” he said. “I'm just happily checking off the list of things I've wanted to accomplish.”
In addition to coaching at Indian Trails, Mathews was the longtime coach of the Flagler Bulldogs Pop Warner team, where he won a national championship in 2006.
Mathews spent the past five seasons as the Pirates' defensive coordinator and was an integral part in the team's turnaround over the past few seasons. This year, he helped lead Matanzas to a 6-4 record and a playoff berth while fielding one of the best defenses in the area.
Mathews said he wants next year's team to have the same edge on defense. However, he also wants the offense to take the next step. The Pirates averaged 18.5 points per game in 2017 and had reoccurring struggles along the offensive line.
“We just have to come in with the right mentality,” he said. “That's all it is. We need a better thought process, and we need to get these kids more confident. The players are there. I just think we lacked confidence at times.”
But despite his defensive acumen, Mathews said one of his biggest advantages is his current relationship with the team.
“I've built some great relationships with these kids over the past few years,” he said. “A lot of them, they're really excited about me being the next coach.”
But, what he intends to build at Matanzas in the years to come all draws back to one thing: his passion for the game of football. It’s something he wants to impart to the lives of the students he touches.
“Football is my life,” Mathews said. “It’s who I am, and it’s who I’ve been for as long as I can remember.
“I just love it.”