Feb. 26, 2010
CHARLOTTESVILLE — About 10 minutes after my story on Ron Mattes, UVa’s new offensive-line coach, was posted on VirginiaSports.com, my phone rang.
It was Tom O’Brien, N.C. State’s football coach, returning my call.
For Mattes’ final three seasons at UVa, O’Brien was George Welsh’s offensive-line coach. Mattes was a standout defensive tackle — he made the all-ACC first team as a senior in 1984 — who enjoyed his verbal sparring with O’Brien.
“We battled in practice,” Mattes recalled. “We talked a little bit in one-on-one pass-rush drill, and it was the kind of thing where, as a defensive player, I was always trying to beat his guys. And he’d say, ‘Shut up, Mattes, and get back in line.'”
Asked about those exchanges with Mattes, O’Brien, whose sense of humor is desert-dry, said, “If that’s what he says, then I’ll have to believe it.”
O’Brien’s offensive linemen in Raleigh include Mattes’ son, R.J., who’ll be a redshirt sophomore in the fall.
“I think certainly he’s got the same attitude and same demeanor that Ron did,” O’Brien said. “You know, Ron spent a lot of time coaching him. He came in with a skill-set level that was more than you would expect from a high school senior.”
When Mattes was playing for the Cavaliers, I asked O’Brien, did the coaches consider moving him to offense?
“No, that would have been a futile attempt at that point in our progress there at UVa,” O’Brien said. “But I think we all kind of recognized the fact that if he was going to play at the next level, it would have been on the offensive side.
“Just from pure body quickness, and the speed factor on defense, he was more suited to be an offensive lineman. He was an offensive lineman playing defensive line for us.”
Sure enough, Mattes moved to offensive tackle in the NFL after Seattle picked him in the seventh round of the 1985 draft. He played for the Seahawks, the Bears and the Colts during an NFL career that ended after the 1992 season.
Mattes was an assistant coach at James Madison University for four seasons in the ’90s. He then spent about a decade based in Concord, N.C., working in apparel sales and, with wife Susan, raising their three kids.
Surprised that Mattes is back in coaching?
“No,” O’Brien said.