CFL coaching great Don Matthews has cancer

Through his former employer the Toronto Argonauts, retired CFL head coach Don Matthews announced Monday that doctors have found cancer cells in his lymph nodes.
Don Matthews, the second-winningest coach in CFL history, ended his third stint as Toronto Argonats head coach on Oct. 31, 2008, following an eighth consecutive loss. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press/File)

The Toronto Argonauts are preparing for Sunday’s East final and a Grey Cup run while former head coach Don Matthews wages a different battle away from the Canadian game.

Through the Canadian Football League team, Matthews announced Monday that doctors have found cancer cells in his lymph nodes and that he continues seeking medical advice.

"I’ve got this and I’m dealing with this," the second-winningest head coach in CFL history said in a statement. "I want everyone to know I plan to fight like hell and I intend to be playing golf at this time next year."

Earlier this year Matthews, 73, had to decline an invite to participate in the 100th Grey Cup Festival in Toronto later this month.

"I wish everyone well as the 100th Grey Cup is celebrated," Matthews said, "and am sorry I will not be there with all of you as I focus, with my wife Stephanie, on my immediate battle off the field."

In 2006, Matthews resigned as Montreal Alouettes head coach, citing anxiety-related issues, but resurfaced in 2008 with the Argonauts as he took over from fired head coach Rich Stubler.

Matthews ended his third stint with Toronto on Oct. 31, 2008, following an eighth consecutive loss.

He appeared at Alouettes training camp in the summer as a guest coach, assisting with the defence and special teams but said he wasn’t missing the game.

Football 'in my past'

"I don’t miss this to be honest. I gave so much of my life to it," Matthews, who is tied for the league record with five Grey Cup victories and nine appearances, told the Gazette newspaper in Montreal in June. "I missed my [three] children growing up. … My family gives me a chance to enjoy things I couldn’t because of coaching.

"I’ve put this [football] life in my past."

However, Matthews did admit to missing the daily banter with media, a surprise to many who remember "The Don" routinely calling out reporters if he believed he was being asked an inappropriate question.

"I don't know if you always knew when I was kidding. But I had a lot of fun," he said. "I'm not an intimidating guy. I think I look that way, but I'm not that way inside."

The five-time CFL coach of the year spent 22 seasons as a head coach with B.C., Baltimore, Edmonton, Saskatchewan, Montreal and Toronto.

It all began for Matthews in Canada in 1977 as a linebacker coach with the Eskimos. He was named defensive co-ordinator the following season and helped the team to five straight Grey Cup titles from 1978 through 1982.

Matthews's first head coaching came in 1983 in Vancouver, where he coached the Lions to their first Grey Cup appearance in 19 years that season. Two years later, Matthews guided B.C. to a Cup victory and earned his first coach of the year honour. His Lions finished first in the West Division in four of his five seasons.

In 1994, Matthews joined the Baltimore Stallions when the CFL expanded to the United States. He led the Stallions to the Grey Cup in his first two seasons and watched them hoist the championship trophy in 1995, the only time the Grey Cup has been awarded outside of Canada.

When the Stallions re-located to Montreal in 1996, Matthews headed to Toronto for a second time. He won back-to-back Grey Cups in 1996 and '97 and broke Frank Clair's record for most regular-season coaching wins with 147.

Matthews moved to Montreal in 2002, winning a championship that fall and returning to the Grey Cup in 2003 and 2005.

He gained a reputation of being a player's coach and many of them loved playing for Matthews because he took care of them and created a winning atmosphere. But he was never afraid to bench a veteran player or release him if he wasn't productive.