Legendary Coach Bob Mattson Dies at 92

by Willem Stoll 7

July 08th, 2023 News

Longtime Wilmington Aquatic Coach and American Swimming Coach Association Hall of Famer Robert “Bob” Mattson died on June 29th. He was 92 years old.

The Philadelphia, PA native was born in 1931, and eventually moved to Worcester, MA where his swimming career began at the Worcester Boys and Girls Club. He would eventually go on to swim at North Carolina State University, where he would be the Wolfpack’s first national champion (200 breaststroke), and the first swimmer to be awarded All-American for four consecutive years. At one point, he also held the world record in the 400-individual medley. He would go on to work in textile chemistry after graduation but would return to coaching soon after.

After leaving his chemistry job, he would go on to found the Wilmington Aquatic Club in Wilmington, DE, starting with only 15 swimmers in 1954. By the time the program reached 12 years old in 1966, it had grown to over 150 swimmers. The following year, Mattson dedicated most of his life’s savings to the construction of the Wilmington Swim School.

Through his coaching Mattson was regarded as a coach that thought “outside the box,” leading to the success of many athletes such as Olympians Dave Johnson, Jenny Bartz, and national champions Seth Van Neerden, and Jennie Franks.

In addition to his athletes’ success, Mattson had a number of famous coaching proteges. Bruce Gemmell swam under Mattson early in his career, before going on to coach Katie Ledecky, the greatest female distance swimmer of all time, among many others (including his daughter, Erin, who is on this year’s US World Championship team).

Gemmell in a 2017 interview, noted that Mattson was “an innovator before being an innovator was cool,” and how he saw the world of swimming in colors outside of black and white.

Mattson also coached Sid Cassidy, one of the main proponents for Olympic open water swimming, and Edgard Johnson, the head coach and eventual athletic director of the University of Delaware.

In the same article with Bruce Gemmell interview, Johnson noted that Mattson had an unmatched understanding of stroke mechanics, and began to pioneer new advancements for the sport.

Recently, Rachel Brockrath – an Ohio State commit –  of the Wilmington Aquatic Club was named to SwimSwam’s Best of the Rest recruits for the class of 2024.

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Matt Mocharnuk
2 months ago

I swam under Bob’s guidance at WAC from 89-92. In terms of my life’s story it was a pretty brief time but the impact was immense. I’ll admit that the full magic of his lessons didn’t connect with me until many years later. As a kid I don’t think I had the open or mature mind to lean into the kind of authentic freedom that Bob was challenging us to discover. As most have said… he was one of a kind and the sheer number of lives he touched only reinforces his legacy.

Love to Nancy, Jen, Eric and all of his family.

Greg Werner
4 months ago

RIP my friend. A gentle and kind soul who would share anywhere, anytime with anyone.

I recall, as a young head coach, when I first met Bob and Nancy at Fort Lauderdale Nats in 1996. After finals one night we discussed swimming including specific gravity of breaststrokers and the five different breaststroke kicks. After a few minutes I backtracked for clarification of the five kicks (I could only identify three) and what in the world was specific gravity. I thought I knew it all only to realize how much I didn’t know – not just swimming but in life. After that meet we always spent time together whenever our paths crossed and picked up our conversations right where we… Read more »

Stephen "Sid" Cassidy
Reply to  Greg Werner
4 months ago

Amen Greg🙏

4 months ago

Glory to Bob

Water Bug
4 months ago

Nobody taught technique like this man. Simply one of the best.

Reply to  Water Bug
4 months ago

As kids, we were sent home with pages of handwritten notes about every appendage in every stroke.

4 months ago

Definitely one of a kind. Who else was having swimmers do Tai Chi in the ‘80’s? Tim Murphy and Ray Benecki we’re also young coaches at WAC back in the day.