Remember the real Pete Mathiesen: a demanding coach, trusted mentor and cherished friend


Pete Mathiesen with his players as coach at the College of Redwoods / Photo from Marty Mathiesen

Pete Mathiesen, former head coach of the Chico State Men’s Basketball team from 1970-1987, passed away at the age of 85 on Feb. 12, 2022. 

Pete may have been 35 years removed from coaching the game he cherished, but he never stopped revering the players he led during his time at Chico. 

Former athletic trainer Tommy Little began his career at Chico State in 1968, just two years before Pete. The two spent a decade rooming with each other when the team traveled on the road, providing both Little and Pete with plenty of memories. 

Every Sunday, Little and Pete met at the Cozy Diner in Chico at 8:30 a.m. for breakfast. They met two weeks before his passing and Little said the two of them shared a laugh while recalling the time they both walked onto the court wearing the same coat over their dress shirts. 

Little spoke to The Orion at Oasis Bar and Grill in Chico, another one of Mathiesen’s favorite spots. 

He described some of Pete’s  best attributes as the ones responsible for earning the respect and more preeminently — the friendship of his players. 

Loyalty may best encapsulate Pete Mathiesen the man. X’s and O’s aside, he took care of the people around him.  

Whether it was visiting former coaches 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. 

“Once he retired he loved to go to the horse races, and when he did that he would have a box so he could have his friends there to share the fun with,” Little said. 

However, Pete’s approach to remaining close to his friends and former players came down to his persistence and thoughtfulness. 

“He’s the greatest ever networker that I have 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, smoke a cigarette and drink a beer and say I’m going to call this guy and say hey.” 

Former players traveled from all over the country, from North Carolina, Alabama and Illinois, to attend Pete’s funeral service on March 12.

Three players who continued their rapport with Pete 35 years later were Steve Connolly, Tim Fruiwirth and Mike Wysong.

Former players under Pete Mathiesen at his service on March 12 / Photo by Kortney Mathiesen

Wysong and Pete grew closer as they got older, because they both lived  in Chico. They met every Tuesday for lunch. Pete was a well-versed man who loved to discuss sports, family, news and the stock market, Wysong said. 

“Most of the guys flying in have just as much of a relationship with (Pete’s wife) Kathi,” Wysong said. “She was always there helping the kids and doing a lot of different things for them.” 

Wysong’s wife and Kathi became good friends. 

“We would all go to the coast in Eureka. Over summer we would go to the Ferndale County Fair. It became 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 lady and he was a very loved man,” Wysong said. 

Tim Fruiwirth grew up in Southern California and played under Mathiesen for two years starting in 1975. Fruiwirth said he admired Pete’s coaching for the short time he was a part of it, but the trusted friend and confidant that Mathiesen became was incomparable. 

Fruiwirth thought highly of Pete’s ability to allow his guys to be students as well as athletes. 

“He allowed us to enjoy Chico State and everything it had to offer. Basketball wasn’t consuming to him; he let us have fun,” Fruiwirth said. “And if you know much about Chico in the ’70s, then you know it was a pretty fun place.” 

A fun place indeed, but Pete outlined some ground rules when he first assembled that 1975 squad.  

“There were two rules: If we walked into a bar and he was there, we left. If he walked into a bar and we were there, he left,” Fruiwirth said. “The second rule was if we had our name in the papers, we were off the team.” 

Some rules, however, were meant to be broken. Or at least bent. 

Fruiwirth recalled a “champagne flight”  the team took from Anchorage, Alaska, to Honolulu, Hawaii. Pete sat in the back of the plane, allowing his players to imbibe just a bit. 

Steve Connolly played basketball professionally in Australia after Chico State. He returned to Chico after his playing days were over and became an assistant coach.

In that position, Connolly said he got to know Pete the man, not just the coach. 

No longer a player, Connolly was able to bypass the rules Fruiwirth recalled and shared many beers with Mathiesen in their time together. 

Connolly described Pete as generous. 

When Connolly and his wife had kids, Pete and Kathi started a college fund for them, and when the family grew up and Connolly had grandchildren — the Mathiesens started another college fund. 

“He was a very generous man. He was family oriented and always thought about the future,” Connolly said. “But not just for his ex-players but for the player’s family as well.” 

It wasn’t until Connolly was removed from the program that he truly appreciated what Mathiesen tried to instill in him. He said being brought back into the program years later after their own personal struggles showed him that Mathiesen saw the value in things.

“I truly felt 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 all the way through and allowed us to overcome any difficulties we had in the past.” 

Marty Mathiesen, son of Pete, grew up riding home on team buses and eventually played under his father at Chico State. 

Marty said his dad could read people well. 

“He had an uncanny ability to shake a person’s hand and read them up and down,” Marty said. “He would tell me if they were someone to steer clear of or not. He was always right, but sometimes I had to learn that the hard way.” 

This related just as much to players. Pete didn’t want players who brought along bad energy. 

To this day, Marty plays golf and catches up with plenty of friends who were kicked off the team by his father. 

Listening to resentments and people who foul-mouthed his father as a coach came with the territory, but Marty said he never paid any mind to it. 

Nor did he receive any special treatment from his father. 

In fact, it was quite the opposite. Marty said he worked for every chance he got on the court and always fought for the spot he knew he deserved. 

“I would have chosen to play under my dad every time, he never handed me a thing,” Marty said. 

Marty will remember his dad’s great advice forever. 

“I trusted my dad had no interest in steering me wrong,” Marty said. “The delivery wasn’t always great, but the content was.” 

Every loss and win will remain in the record books. What will not be chronicled are the innumerable phone calls, breakfasts, weddings, road trips and great advice. 

“It was all about people. He enjoyed people and he was a stern mentor with the biggest heart you didn’t always see,” Marty said. “None of the accolades over the years would have mattered if he didn’t have the connections with the people.” 

Pete is survived by his wife Kathi, his sons Marty and Pat, and his eight grandchildren. 

Kathi Mathiesen along with her eight grandchildren at Pete’s service on March 12 / Photo by Kortney Mathiesen

Mason Tovani can be reached at [email protected].