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Chico State

Fond Farewell: Former Basketball Coach Pete Mathiesen

Pete Mathiesen
Courtesy photo

Former basketball coach Pete Mathiesen, who led our men’s basketball team for 17 years, passed away February 12. He was 85.

Born January 2, 1937, in Marysville, he graduated from Fremont High School, where he placed third in the nation for speech and debate. Mathiesen subsequently earned his bachelor’s degree from Humboldt State, a master’s from San Jose State University, and a doctorate from the University of Sarasota. He taught and coached for six years in the Campbell School District and then spent five years as the head basketball coach at College of the Redwoods before he began his coaching career at Chico State in 1970.

As head basketball coach for 17 years, he led Chico State to 243 victories and five conference titles and was himself named the conference’s coach of the year four times. Mathiesen twice took his teams to the NCAA Division II regional playoffs and was twice ranked nationally. His teams ranked in the top 30 of all-time coaching victories in NCAA Division II history.

He also taught in the Physical Education Department for many years, wrote more than 30 professional articles for coaching journals, and dedicated his time and experience to such programs as Learning Alternatives Resource Network, At-Risk Youth Conference, the School Violence Committee for California, and Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

Men’s basketball coach Greg Clink describes Mathiesen as a tremendous coach and educator who impacted many lives both on the court and in the classroom.

“It is a testament to him that so many of his former student-athletes and students went on to achieve so much success,” Clink said. “I had the pleasure of being one of his students and his energy, enthusiasm, and gift for teaching made his classes some of the best I took at Chico State.”

Mathiesen also enjoyed sharing his passion for basketball on a global stage. He sent over 30 Chico State players to Australia where they were able to compete in post-collegiate basketball. And he took two teams on 20-game tours to Australia and New Zealand. 

Steve Connolly (Physical Education, Psychology, ’72; Education, ’81) was a player on Mathiesen’s first team for the 1971 basketball season and enjoyed working with him so much that he returned after graduation to coach together while working toward his master’s degree, and then again after a stint playing in Australia. For many years, they also coached a summer basketball camp for junior high and high school students.

“He had a hard-nosed attitude and wanted his players to be hard-nosed and tough,” Connolly said. “He let individual talent shine when it could, and he tried to let players play within their game.”

Mathiesen wasn’t just a great coach—he was a great educator, Connolly said.

“If you asked athletes who didn’t play basketball or people who went through the PE department, you’d find he helped a lot of them with their class selection or master’s program, or helping them find employment,” he said. “Once you go to know him and he got to know you, he went to bat for you.”

After he stepped down from his coaching role at Chico State in 1987, he put on coaching clinics all over the world, including in Thailand, Panama, Malaysia, and Ireland, and served as National Coach of Cyprus for the Olympics from 1992–94. Other coaching duties include the head basketball coach for the National Basketball League Geelong Cats in Australia and the Sacramento Kings NBA Summer League, where he compiled an 11-3 record. He also remained an avid local sports booster, especially for basketball at the high school, community college, and college level.

“I’ve talked with several of our players who were on our team who have known Pete for 45 years,” said Mike Wysong (Physical Education, ’79). “The theme from everyone is how much he did for all his players, not only when we were at the University but after we graduated and had our own families. One of the guys said, ‘A great man, and an even better person and even a better best friend. He changed my life.’”

Mathiesen is survived by his wife of 63 years, Kathi; sons Marty and Pat; and grandchildren Reece, Blake, Kourtney, Kyle, Carly, Billy, Kevin, and Olivia.

Following a private service, a celebration of life will be held 2–5 p.m. March 12 at Lakeside Pavilion in Chico.

The University flag will be lowered Wednesday, February 23, in his memory.