'A Gentle Giant:' Coaching colleagues recall Indiana Football Hall of Famer Bob 'Bubba' Mattix
In a profession of Alpha personalities, Bob Mattix had a modest grace about him that belied his physical stature.
“He was a gentle giant,” La Porte coach David Ortiz said. “He had this deep voice, his size, he was so powerful, but he was a kind man. He listened. The way he approached things, he was the true definition of a coach and teacher. I didn’t have a father figure in my life, so I’ve been extremely lucky, blessed, to have guys like Buz (Craig Buzea), Lev (Tom Levandoski) and Bubba (Mattix). He’s a big part of who I am and why I do this.”
Mattix, an Indiana Football Hall of Famer who was most recently an assistant with Buzea at Crown Point, died Saturday at the age of 72. His passing evoked recollections from countless players and coaches who he impacted in a career that dated back to his playing days for Hobart.
“You talk about all the coaches who influence you as a coach, Bob was the first one,” Ortiz said. “It’s sad, he was truly one of a kind, but I’m glad he’s not suffering anymore.”
The Portage graduate attended kids camps when Mattix was the head coach of the Indians and played for him as a sophomore and junior before Buzea took over the program. Ortiz is close friends with Mattix’s son, Kurt, now the defensive coordinator at San Diego State.
“We took a Driver’s Ed. class at St. Joe (College) one summer,” Ortiz said. “I worked with Bob, doing that close to 20 years. All the meetings, the time in between sessions, just to hear those experiences, I’ll never forget it.”
After Ortiz was RIF’d (reduction in force) at River Forest and Hammond Morton, it was Mattix, then the Athletics Director at Portage, who helped Ortiz get a job at his alma mater.
“He saw the good in me,” Ortiz said.
When Buzea left Portage for Michigan City in 2007, he asked Ortiz to come along as his defensive coordinator. Reluctant initially since he was always on offense, Ortiz decided to make the move when he found out Mattix would be coming along as the defensive line coach.
“He molded me as a coach,” Ortiz said. “He always had a knack for humbling you, grounding you. It’s the nature of the sport to be aggressive, but he had the ability to see the bigger picture, teach you that there was more to life than football. It’s about the relationships, the character. He provided that consistency. I could talk for hours about him. He was that special.”
Mattix was on staff at Valparaiso University when offensive line coach Bob James came to La Porte in 1995, and had only crossed paths with him and recruiting events and clinics.
James’ first significant interaction with him came while Mattix was A.D. at Portage in the early 2000s. Then-Slicers coach Bob Schellinger was unable to make the post-season coaches meeting for all-conference football, so he sent James to Portage, where Mattix was coordinating it.
“I arrived early because I really didn’t know what to expect and I wanted to try to pick some of the other coaches brains for some foresight,” James said. “I was the first one there. Coach Mattix
welcomed me in, immediately made me feel like “one of the guys,” and filled me in on everything that was going to take place. I was floored by his kindness and sincerity.”
During that time, James noted, there wasn’t a whole lot of love amongst DAC football coaches with the likes of Valpo’s Mark Hoffman, Merrillville’s Jeff Yelton, Hobart’s Charlie Boston and Buzea, but Mattix diffused any angst.
“Coach Mattix didn’t go for that stuff,” James said. “Let’s just say he killed them with kindness. I was awestruck.”
It was the start of a friendship that James is going to deeply miss.
“From then on, I always found time to talk to him and he reciprocated,” he said. “We talked about football, family, politics, current social issues, whatever. He always encouraged me to keep fighting the good fight. He acknowledged my accomplishments and made me feel good about what I was doing. He was a special man.”
Michigan City assistant and former Morton head coach Roy Richards never worked directly with Mattix, but respected his impact on the game.
“I didn’t know him well, but always shared a nice exchange whenever I saw him. I think all veteran coaches in the Region are familiar with Bob Mattix,” Richards said. “He always had a kind word whenever I saw him and he was always willing to use his experience and knowledge to offer any advice or assistance he could. I really admired him and always felt as if he made Region football better. Our Region has lost some good ones, retirement and passing, and it is hard to think we can replace guys like that.”