Pete Mathiesen, former head coach of the Chico State men’s basketball team from 1970 to 1987, died on February 12, 2022 at the age of 85.
Pete may have been 35 years away from coaching the game he cherished, but he never stopped adoring the players he guided during his time at Chico.
Former athletic coach Tommy Little began his career at Chico State in 1968, just two years before Pete. The two spent a decade together while the team was on the road, providing many memories for Little and Pete.
Every Sunday, Little and Pete would meet at 8:30 a.m. for breakfast at the Cozy Diner in Chico. They met two weeks before his death and Little said the two shared a laugh as they recalled the time they both entered the square wearing the same coat over their shirts.
Little spoke to The Orion at the Oasis Bar and Grill in Chico, another of Mathiesen’s favorite spots.
He described some of Pete’s best qualities as those responsible for earning his players’ respect and most importantly, his friendship.
Loyalty might best sum up the man Pete Mathiesen. Aside from X and O, he cared about the people around him.
Whether it was visiting former trainers he competed against, old high school friends, or spending a day at the horse races, Pete stayed true to his friends and those he cared about, Little said.
“After he retired, he loved going to the horse races, and when he did, he had a box so he could have his friends there to share the fun,” Little said.
However, Pete’s approach to staying close to his friends and former players was based on his persistence and thoughtfulness.
“He’s the greatest networker I’ve ever known. He had a list of players and their phone numbers that he would sit down and call,” Little said. “He wouldn’t just sit down and have a cigarette and a beer and say I’m going to call this guy and say hello to him.”
Former players traveled from across the country, from North Carolina, Alabama and Illinois, to attend Pete’s funeral on March 12.
Three players who continued their relationship with Pete 35 years later were Steve Connolly, Tim Fruiwirth and Mike Wysong.
Wysong and Pete became closer as they got older because they both lived in Chico. They met every Tuesday for lunch. Pete was a savvy man who enjoyed talking about sports, family, news and the stock market, Wysong said.
“Most of the guys who fly in have an equally strong relationship with (Pete’s wife) Kathi,” Wysong said. “She was always there, helping the kids and doing many different things for them.”
Wysong’s wife and Kathi became good friends.
“We would all go to the shore in Eureka. In the summer we went to the Ferndale County Fair. It got very social between our wives and it was great,” Wysong said.
Wysong said Kathi will always be a part of his family’s life.
“She’s a very special woman and he was a very beloved man,” Wysong said.
Tim Fruiwirth grew up in Southern California and played under Mathiesen for two years from 1975. Fruiwirth said he admired Pete’s coaching for the short time he’d been a part of it, but the trusted friend and confidante that Mathiesen became was unparalleled.
Fruiwirth appreciated Pete’s ability to allow his boys to be both students and athletes.
“He allowed us to enjoy Chico State and everything it had to offer. Basketball didn’t consume him; He let us have fun,” said Fruchtiwirth. “And if you know a lot about Chico in the ’70s, you know it was a pretty fun place.”
A fun place indeed, but Pete outlined some ground rules when he first assembled this 1975 squad.
“There were two rules: if we went to a bar and he was there, we left. If he went to a bar and we were there, he would go,” said Fruiwirth. “The second rule was if we had our name on the papers, we were off the team.”
However, some rules should be broken. Or at least curved.
Fruiwirth recalled a “champagne flight” the team took from Anchorage, Alaska to Honolulu, Hawaii. Pete sat in the back of the plane and allowed his players to have a drink.
Steve Connolly played basketball professionally in Australia after Chico State. After his playing days ended, he returned to Chico and became an assistant coach.
In that position, Connolly said, he met the man Pete, not just the coach.
Connolly, no longer a player, could circumvent the rules Fruiwirth remembered and drank many beers with Mathiesen during their time together.
Connolly described Pete as generous.
When Connolly and his wife had children, Pete and Kathi set up a college fund for them, and when the family grew up and Connolly had grandchildren, the Mathiesens set up another college fund.
“He was a very generous man. He was family oriented and always thinking about the future,” said Connolly. “But not only for his ex-players, but also for the player’s family.”
It wasn’t until Connolly was removed from the program that he really appreciated what Mathiesen was trying to teach him. He said being reinstated into the program years later after her own personal struggles showed him that Mathiesen saw the value of things.
“I really felt like he thought there was value in what I had to offer and I saw the same in him,” Connolly said. “He always had good intentions and allowed us to overcome any difficulties we had in the past.”
Marty Mathiesen, son of Pete, rode team buses home and eventually played under his father at Chico State.
Marty said his father was good at reading people.
“He had this uncanny ability to shake someone’s hand and read them cover to cover,” Marty said. “He would tell me if they were someone to avoid or not. He was always right, but sometimes I had to learn it the hard way.”
This applied to the players as well. Pete didn’t want players who brought bad energy with them.
To this day, Marty still plays golf and meets many friends who were kicked off the team by his father.
Holding grudges and hearing people berate his father as a coach was part of territory, but Marty said he never cared.
He also received no special treatment from his father.
In fact, it was just the opposite. Marty said he worked for every chance on the pitch and always fought for the spot he knew he deserved.
“I would have chosen to play under my dad any time, he never gave me anything,” Marty said.
Marty will always remember his father’s great advice.
“I trusted that my father had no interest in misdirecting me,” Marty said. “The delivery wasn’t always great, but the content was.”
Every loss and every win will stay in the record books. What is not logged are the countless phone calls, breakfasts, weddings, road trips and great advice.
“It was about people. He liked people and he was a tough mentor with the biggest heart you couldn’t always see,” Marty said. “None of the awards over the years would have mattered if he hadn’t had the connections with the people.”
Pete is survived by his wife Kathi, sons Marty and Pat, and eight grandchildren.
Mason Tovani can be reached at [email protected]