Elon basketball coach Matt Matheny was a nonscholarship quarterback at Davidson College. Davidson College photo
Elon basketball coach Matt Matheny started on his Davidson College team.
He started at quarterback for the football Wildcats.
"They called me an option quarterback because I couldn't see over the offensive line to pass," Matheny joked. "My first year, I redshirted and I was the seventh quarterback on the depth chart out of six. We were 0-10.
"Then the next year, I started the first three games."
Matheny's experience in playing nonscholarship football and later walking on to the basketball team has influenced his coaching for 16 years as an assistant at Davidson and through three-plus seasons in Burlington, N.C.
The experience brings a toughness that he passes along to his players. Elon is 15-7 overall and 8-2 in the Southern Conference and owns a 2 1/2-game lead over Samford in the North Division standings.
"Every play, you have to be physical and not let other teams impact what you're going to do and how you act," junior Ryley Beaumont said. "When getting trapped, we'd rather hold tough and take a five-second call than throw a soft pass and throw it away."
Beaumont has heard a tale or two of Matheny's football playing days. Beaumont said Matheny picks certain times to relate pigskin to pumpkin.
Yet, he's never seen the coach toss a football, even when the basketball team tailgates before football games. Odd, he thinks, as does fellow junior Jack Isenbarger.
"It's bizarre that he's never picked up a football in front of us," Isenbarger said. "I've never seen him throw. That's wild to me."
Would he do it? Maybe under peer pressure.
"My shoulder hurts," said Matheny, who turns 43 on Monday. "I can throw with my 8-year-old, and that's about it. And at the tailgates, I do more talking."
Matheny started at quarterback in 1989 and played in 26 games in four years. For his career, Matheny completed 13 of 33 passes for 173 yards, one touchdown and six interceptions. He also caught 16 passes for 162 yards and rushed 46 times for 25 yards.
He's in the Davidson football official record book, but not for setting records.
"I was put in a position to be in the role of a leader," said Matheny, who played American football in Deggendorf, Germany. "That gave me a chance to fall in love with coaching and communicating."
The physical nature Matheny has communicated at Elon centers around playing through contact, being rugged, playing hard without fouling and simply being tougher than opponents.
"Every now and then he'll reference how he was never the biggest guy, but he wasn't afraid to pop a guy," Isenbarger said. "Being able to take hits and go to the next play is something that translates from football to basketball."
Isenbarger and Beaumont said references to sports other than basketball creep up during practice and video sessions with Matheny. A pass that leads to an assist is called a "Gretzky," and the Phoenix have an end-of-game play called "Four-Step" that is similar to a wide receiver route.
Football experiences are ingrained in Matheny. He's thankful for those times with his teammates and how they help him as a coach. Yet the guys are curious: Could Coach have been Davidson's Colin Kaepernick?
"I asked him the other day, 'How far could you sling it?'" Isenbarger said. "He said, 'I could throw it as far as I needed to.'"
David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...