Amidst the chaos of a Paschal football game on Thursday or Friday evenings in the fall, one man stands out in the sea of purple on the Panther sideline. This thin, athletic man with a red goatee wears a headset, glasses, khaki pants and his Paschal Panthers hat as he calmly stalks the field in front of the Panther bench.
Great coaches are not typically associated with struggling programs, but the Paschal Panthers may have a keeper in head coach Matt Cook.
“He legitimately cares about every one of his players… He keeps up with everybody,” senior running back and co-captain Matthew Young said, “There’s no one else I would rather play for.”
The Panthers completed their 2011 campaign posting their first winless record since Cook’s first year as head coach in 2007. However no one questions his passion, work ethic and knowledge of the game.
The middle child of five in a large Catholic family, Cook’s love of sports grew from a young age. Athletics was an important part of the Cook household as all of Cook’s siblings played College sports and his parents played various sports competitively well into their adult years.
He credits his mother’s compassion and his father’s discipline for preparing him to coach in the future. He said that meshing the two together is what has allowed him to be the best coach he can be today.
Cook always had a passion for coaching. As a little boy he would create football plays and spent Sunday afternoons after church using his little brother and sister to run them and play against the neighborhood kids.
Cook attended TCU and walked on to play football for then-head coach and Heisman-winning quarterback Pat Sullivan. It was thanks to Sullivan that Cook ultimately decided to pursue coaching as his chosen career.
Cook was walking to practice with Sullivan one day when he asked the TCU coach how he started coaching. Sullivan told him that after his time in the NFL, he opened a tire business in his home state of Alabama. The business was successful, but Sullivan was unhappy. Seeing this, his wife told him to pursue his passion and coach.
“That story really inspired me,” Cook said. “That was the beginning of my junior year and I dropped my business degree, changed to education, and got into coaching.”
Also while he was in college, Cook met his wife of 13 years and the mother of his four children at a friend’s wedding.
“He was very sweet and loving; I’d never met anyone like him before,” Susan Cook said. “He swept me off my feet.”
After a short time as an assistant coach at Nolan Catholic High School, Cook received his first head coaching job at All Saints Episcopal.
All Saints, a small private school on the west side of Fort Worth, had only recently become an 11-man football school. Cook took the new program to new heights, winning two Southwest Preparatory Conference Championships in 2002 and 2004. Cook laid the foundation for All Saints football to be the perennial SPC contender it is today.
Although he has yet to enjoy the same success at Paschal that he did at All Saints, Cook remains undaunted. He is confident that the Panthers are just a few steps away from putting the program back on the map.
“He likes the challenge to turn programs around. He knows how to do it; everyone just has to commit to him and trust his coaching philosophy.” senior quarterback Chris Hanson said.
Cook enjoys the challenge, but it is a challenge that comes with stress and frustration. Faith in God and a strong sense of perseverance have empowered him to endure tough times and keep working hard.
“I get frustrated all the time, but one of the lessons you learn is that you push through it, just like anything in life,” Cook said. “You have to be willing to have a short memory and move on, knowing what you must do tomorrow to better your future. That’s really what we push the kids to do.”
Susan Cook is also highly in tuned with the stresses of coaching high school football in Texas. She said that although her husband never brings his work frustrations home, seeing the team struggle can be nerve-wracking.
“[Being a coach’s wife is] very stressful. Criticism is hard, especially when you have a down season. It’s very difficult to sit in the stands and hear someone criticize your husband without getting emotional or upset about it,” Susan Cook said. “It’s especially hard to hear that when I know how much time and energy he puts into that program.”
Even though wins are the life-blood of the coaching profession, Cook understands that there are more important things to be gained from having an impact on high school kids. His focus as a coach is often times more about growing as a person than simply the x’s and o’s on the field.
“What I love about coaching is instilling your philosophy in a group of kids that maybe don’t think the way you think. And taking a kid and molding him and sculpting him and watching him grow and become committed,” Cook said.
This attitude has registered with his players and they take it to heart. For many of them, Cook is more than just a coach — he is family.
“Yes, the goal is to win games, obviously. But at the end of the day, he makes it about being a better man,” Young said.
“He’s an awesome person and I know that he’s always there for us and whatever we need we can go to him,” Hanson said.
Cook’s loving-but-firm personality has struck a chord with hundreds of kids throughout his coaching career. He operates the same way in his home life.
“He’s a wonderful father; he’s very patient,” Susan Cook said. “He has a passion for the game and a passion for kids. He always has a willingness to always go the extra mile and that’s just Matt Cook.”
Cook continues to go the extra mile and pour himself into a struggling program that competes in one of the most increasingly difficult districts in 5A football. As hard as it is, Cook said that Paschal is exactly where he wants to be.
His dream is to one day coach his sons and the years that they will spend at Paschal are swiftly approaching. If Cook has it his way, he will be stalking the Panthers’ sidelines for many years to come and one day turn Paschal’s program into the contender that he knows it can be. Until that day, though, he will be contented with molding young lives and growing boys into young men.