Marv Matteson amassed more than 1,000 victories over 53 years coaching baseball, basketball and cross country at Kenmore East and Iroquois.
Planning to retire at the end of the 2020 Iroquois baseball season, the 77-year-old Matteson was saddened and surprised to learn this week that the Chiefs don’t want him back.
“I am stunned,” an emotional Matteson said in a phone interview after the Iroquois school board made its final decision Monday.
Douglas Scofield, Iroquois superintendent, said he could not provide details on the reason for the decision.
“Here at Iroquois, we protect the confidentiality of all personnel situations," he said. "Any time there is an event in personnel, we do talk to multiple people, investigate and come up with a decision that is consistent with district policies. In terms of the particular personnel, we can’t comment.”
Iroquois was coming off a 17-6 season in which it won the Section VI Class A-2 championship for the second time in four years. Matteson was named ECIC III coach of the year after the Chiefs won their eighth division title since Matteson came over from Kenmore East in 2001.
Matteson said he believes he was fired over accusations of bullying by “vindictive” parents of two junior varsity players who threatened a lawsuit. According to Matteson, the parents were upset over the players' not being included in the team’s annual spring training trip to Florida and the possibility that they would not make the varsity team next season.
“There was a vendetta set against me and my assistant, Jim Snyder,” Matteson said. “They had vowed to get us fired. Apparently now, if a parent or two goes after you, the school won’t back you. But we did nothing wrong.”
Matteson said Scofield complimented him during postseason meetings but insisted that the Chiefs “were going to go in a different direction.”
Several current and former players and parents attended a school board hearing Monday morning in support of Matteson. They presented a petition with more than 50 signatures requesting that Matteson continue as coach.
“All coaching positions are Iroquois are annual appointments, and annually we decide whether we are going to ask a coach to come back or not,” Scofield said.
Among those who spoke at the meeting was Sal Buscaglia, the former women’s basketball coach for Robert Morris University, the University at Buffalo and Hilbert College, whose grandson played for the Iroquois junior varsity last season.
Buscaglia, a member of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame, arrived to the meeting in a wheelchair. He had been hospitalized for nearly three weeks following a heart attack in early June but was compelled to give a passionate defense of Matteson and rebuke of the district’s decision.
“I just got out of the hospital. I barely got out alive. And my family told me I shouldn’t be going to this meeting and getting all worked up,” Buscaglia said in a phone interview Tuesday. “But that’s how strongly I felt about Marv and his JV coach, Jim Snyder.
“They are men of integrity and excellent coaches. Just quality people and they had a great rapport with the kids. I told the school board and the superintendent it would be tragic for them not to continue coaching. Not just tragic for Marv, but tragic for these JV players who won’t get to have him as their coach now.”
Buscaglia retired from coaching in 2016 and said he has attended almost every game since his grandson started playing for Iroquois as a seventh-grader.
“I don’t know if I’ve missed a game, home, away, in Florida,” Buscaglia said. “I’ve sat near the dugout during games. And I’ve never seen even a hint of abuse. Never saw anything out of line.
“I simply don’t understand how you can have a small minority that might have an agenda, and all these people who support a coach, and make a decision like this. These kids, 99 percent of them, are devastated, and so are their parents.
“I think they should be giving him an award,” Buscaglia concluded, “rather than questioning whether he should be retained or not.”
Matteson’s dismissal also hastens a retirement decision for Snyder after 49 years at Iroquois. Snyder preceded Matteson as baseball coach and hired Matteson while working as the Chiefs’ athletics director from 2000 to 2004. He took over as junior varsity coach in 2006 after retiring from teaching.
“The original idea was Marv would come out for a year or two and get things in motion for us,” Snyder said. “And 19 years later, he’s still here. He ran a great program, the kids love him, and he really built a legacy from the bottom up. I think we had seven kids available when he started and now we have three teams that have excellent numbers and have had success.”
Matteson started coaching cross country at Kenmore East in 1966. He took over the basketball program in 1969 after two seasons coaching the JV. Matteson won 331 basketball games and 289 cross country meets while coaching the Bulldogs. He retired from teaching social studies at Kenmore East in 2000, content to give up coaching basketball and cross country, but hoping to continue on with baseball. Union rules requiring that active teachers receive precedent for coaching positions prevented him from doing so.
In 33 combined seasons coaching baseball for Kenmore East, Matteson won 425 games, ranking sixth all-time in Western New York history.