Legendary CSU coach John Mattos elected to hall of fame

John Mattos

John Mattos will be inducted into the American Swimming Coaches Association Hall of Fame this summer. Here he is accepting the
Distinguished Athletics Award at the 2016 Distinguished Alumni Awards Dinner.

Former Colorado State University coach John Mattos (B.A. English, ’71) didn’t get elected to the American Swimming Coaches Association Hall of Fame because of one swimmer. After all, he coached hundreds of student-athletes during his 31 years at CSU, winning eight conference titles and more than 200 dual meets.

But he is the first to admit that his career trajectory – and that of his beloved program – changed the day he got Amy Van Dyken to become a Ram. Van Dyken had just left the University of Arizona’s program, believing her career was over, when Mattos convinced her to give swimming another go.

Amy Van Dyken
Amy Van Dyken became a CSU legend in 1994 and was named NCAA Swimmer of the Year.

‘He changed my life’

“John Mattos changed my life forever,” Van Dyken said from her home in Scottsdale, Ariz. “I thought I was done when I left Arizona, but John asked me to give him one semester to see if I could get back on track.

“Honestly, I would have become a high school biology teacher somewhere, which is fine, if it hadn’t been for John. Instead, my life went in a completely different direction, and none of it would have happened without him.”

Van Dyken’s new direction went something like this:

• She won the 50-yard freestyle at the 1994 NCAA Championships, becoming CSU’s first national champion. She led the Rams to a best-ever 12th place national finish and was named NCAA Swimmer of the Year.

• She became an international sensation at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, winning four gold medals in a dominating performance that ranks among the greatest in U.S. Olympic history.

• She shocked the swimming world in 2000, coming back from shoulder surgery to win two more gold medals at the Sydney, Australia Games, becoming one of only a handful of Olympians to retire with all gold medals.

• She was inducted into the CSU, Colorado and U.S. Olympic halls of fame. Oh, and she had her own Wheaties box.

Memorable 1994 season

“Amy was so easy to coach,” Mattos said. “She’d do anything to help her swim fast. Before every big race there was always the whispered confidence builders and motivational words. We had a pretty good coach/swimmer routine.

“Our 1994 NCAA performance was probably the highlight of my career. Amy, Kristen Elliot, Carol McDaniel, Heidi Griffith and Marsha Landowski all became All-Americans, and Amy’s swim in the 50 had the audience in awe. For the first two days of the meet it was just so cool to see Colorado State in the top 10, right up there with the big-time SEC and Pac-10 programs.”

Amazing farewell performance

Current Rams coach Woody Woodard first came to know Mattos’ gift for coaching when he joined the CSU staff as a volunteer coach in 1998. Van Dyken, who had undergone shoulder surgery, asked Mattos to get her ready for the 2000 U.S. Olympic Trials.

Amy Van Dyken
Six-time Olympic gold medalist Amy Van Dyken came back to campus when a street on the historic Oval was renamed in her honor. She remains close with former CSU coach John Mattos.

“John had four months to get her back to Olympic speed and he didn’t even blink,” Woodard said. “There was never a doubt in his mind and never a doubt in Amy’s mind that she would do it. They had an amazing partnership.”

Mattos, who was a four-time All-American himself at CSU, had a coaching career that spanned nearly 50 years. He began coaching young swimmers in 1968 at his home in California, and was once head of the city’s prestigious Fort Collins Area Swim Team (FAST) before taking over at CSU in 1980.

Amazing career

He was a six-time conference coach of the year for the Rams, and was twice an assistant on U.S. national teams. He was inducted into the CSU Sports Hall of Fame in 2005 and won the Distinguished Athletic Award from the CSU Alumni Association in 2016.

Even though he retired in 2011, he has worked as a volunteer coach for Woodard the past three years.

Mattos and four other coaches from around the country will be officially inducted into the ASCA Hall of Fame on Sept. 5 in Dallas.

“I really never thought my career accomplishments would lead to these honors,” Mattos said. “It really just boggles my mind, and I’m completely humbled by the recognition.”