Even the greatest football players need the guidance of a coach who understands the game. For SMU greats Bobby Wilson and Doak Walker, there was William Madison (Matty) Bell. Matty Bell came to SMU in 1934 and served as the line coach for one season before being named head coach in 1935. In 1955, Bell was honored for being one of the greatest coaches in college history by being enshrined into the College Football Hall of Fame. Matty Bell's contributions to SMU will never be forgotten, making his enshrinement in the Hall of Fame one of the 90 Greatest Moments in SMU Football History.
He attended Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, from 1916 to 1920, and received his B.S. degree. He was head coach at Haskell Indian Institute in Lawrence, Kansas (1920-21), at Carroll College in Waukesha, Wisconsin (1922-23), and at TCU (1923-28). He coached at Texas A&M from 1929 until 1933 when he was relieved for his inability to beat SMU. In 1934, he moved to Dallas to coach the line for Ray Morrison at SMU. In 1935, Ray Morrison left SMU for Vanderbilt, and Matty Bell was named head coach.
They called him "Moanin' Matty", because coach Matty Bell was the master of pessimistic predictions, usually used to serve his own best interests. When Bell pulled out the crying towel, opposing coaches became wary. There was good reason. Bell instilled in his players the same cold and calculated approach which dominated his own personal preparations before a game. "When I was coaching at Texas A&M we played Tulane's 1931 Rose Bowl team, and I never forgot the ice-water poise they had in the unexcited way they went about their business", he once recalled. "I told myself that if I ever had a great team I'd try to keep them in the same frame of mind." He was known as a great defensive coach and renowned for his wide-open style of game. He was remembered for the respect he gave each of his players and for never using a word of profanity.
Bell's first team at SMU swept through the 12-game regular season on the way to the national championship, before losing to Stanford, 7-0, in the Rose Bowl. The 1935 SMU squad was the first team from west of the Mississippi (aside from the Pacific Coast Conference teams) to be invited to the Rose Bowl, and that fact helped to put Southwest Conference football on the map. He also led the Mustangs to co-SWC championship with Texas A&M in 1940 before his tenure at SMU was interrupted in 1941 by World War II. He served as a commander in the United States Naval Reserve (Aviation) from 1942 to 1945. In 1945, he returned to SMU, where he continued as head coach until 1949.
He coached the Doak Walker led Mustangs to back-to-back SWC titles in 1947 and 1948, including two trips to the Cotton Bowl. In his last game at SMU, in the Cotton Bowl on December 3, 1949, he brought the seriously undermanned Mustangs, who were twenty-four-point underdogs, to a near-defeat of Notre Dame, which won the game by a late touchdown, 27 to 20. In 1950 Bell was succeeded as head coach by his assistant, H. N. (Rusty) Russell. He also served as director of athletics there from 1945 to 1964. He retired in 1964. For his career, Matty Bell coached his teams to 154 wins, 87 losses, and 17 ties. At SMU, his Mustangs went 79-34-10, won the 1935 National Championship, and Doak Walker won the Heisman Trophy in 1948. Matty Bell will go down as arguably the greatest coach in SMU history, and his enshrinement in the College Football Hall of Fame is one of the 90 Greatest Moments in SMU Football History.