Bell, William Madison [Matty] (1899–1983)

By: Andrew Blifford

Type: Biography

Published: May 1, 1995

William Madison (Matty) Bell, football coach, was born in Fort Worth, Texas, on February 22, 1899, the son of Mr. and Mrs. R. E. Bell. He graduated in 1916 from North Fort Worth High School, where he played on the Steers' unofficial state championship team in 1915. 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 Texas Christian University (1923–28). He coached at Texas A&M from 1929 to 1933, when he moved to Dallas to coach at Southern Methodist University. His tenure at SMU was interrupted in 1941 by World War II, during which 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.

In Centre College Bell was a member of the "Praying Colonels" of World War I vintage. He helped establish this small Kentucky school's reputation as a "killer." At TCU he played a significant role in guiding the school through its fledgling years in the Southwest Conference. He also coached some of TCU's first nationally renowned players, such as Raymond (Raggs) Mathews. (Bell also coached TCU’s basketball team.) Bell became line coach for SMU in 1934 and took over as head coach in 1935. That year he took the Mustangs to the Rose Bowl with a 12–0 record; SMU was the first team to represent the Southwest Conference there. They lost to Stanford 0–7 but won the national championship for the season—another first for a Southwest Conference team. In 1940 he tied Texas A&M for the championship of the Southwest Conference. He led the team, featuring a young Doak Walker, to another undefeated season in 1947 and tied Penn State in 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. At SMU Bell coached such star players as Kyle Rote, Ewell Doak Walker, Jr., Paul Gage, Gil Johnson, and Johnny Champion. He was known as a great defensive coach and renowned for his wide-open style of game. To his players at SMU, he was known as "Moanin' Matty." He was remembered for the respect he gave each of them and for never using a word of profanity. In 1950 he was succeeded as head coach by his assistant, H. N. (Rusty) Russell. Bell retired from head coach after 1949 but remained at SMU as athletic director until he retired in 1964.

Bell was a Methodist and a member of the Dallas Athletic Club and the Shrine and Hella temples. He was president of the American Football Coaches Association in 1943–44 and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1955 and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 1960. He and his wife, Peggy (Kendrick), had a daughter. He died on June 30, 1983, and was buried at Restland Memorial Park, Dallas.

“The Countdown: 71. Matty Bell enshrined into College Football Hall of Fame in 1955,” SMUMUSTANGS.COM (, accessed September 12, 2012. John Holmes, Texas Sport: The Illustrated History (Austin: Texas Monthly Press, 1984). Texas Sports Hall of Fame: Its Members and Their Deeds (Grand Prairie: Texas Sports Hall of Fame, 1981). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Who's Who in Texas Today, 1st ed. (Austin: Pemberton Press, 1968).

  • Sports and Recreation
  • Sports (Football)
  • Military
  • World War II
Time Periods:
  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas
  • Fort Worth
  • North Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Andrew Blifford, “Bell, William Madison [Matty],” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 23, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 1, 1995

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: