Matt Riley, who spent nearly 40 years as a student-athlete and athletic department staff member at MTSU, passed away on Thursday at the age of 58.
Funeral and visitation arrangements will be announced later.
Riley spent 29 years working at his alma mater. He returned to Murfreesboro in 1993 to serve as a strength coach after two-year stints at both Tennessee Tech and Southern Miss, and then was elevated to associate AD of strength of conditioning in 2007. He served in that role for 11 years before transitioning to a position in the MT Varsity Club and Blue Raiders Hall of Fame.
“Matt Riley embodied the best qualities of being a Blue Raider and was as True Blue as anyone in our athletic department,” said Massaro. “His tireless dedication to our student athletes, first as a strength coach, then through the Varsity Club, was second to none. Countless generations of Blue Raiders have had their lives made better by the work Matt Riley put into them, and his dedication to them was returned by those same student athletes. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Rajayna, his children Madison and Jackson and the entire Riley family.”
As the associate AD of strength of conditioning, Riley oversaw the strength and conditioning program for more than 300 student-athletes annually at Middle Tennessee, in addition to his duties as a strength coach for various teams. He was also instrumental in the design of the weight room located adjacent to the football stadium on the north side.
Riley is a former Blue Raider offensive lineman, playing under former athletics director and football coach Boots Donnelly from 1984-85 and was a member of the 1985 11-0 OVC Championship team. He was also an assistant to strength coach Doc Kreis at MT in 1988 before being hired as the head strength and conditioning coach at Tennessee Tech in 1989.
He was a Master Strength and Conditioning Coach (MACC) and was certified by the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association (CSCCA), the National Association of Speed and Explosion (NASE) and the International Sports Science Association (ISSA). He was also a member of each association, as well as the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).
Riley and his wife, Rajayna, have two children: daughter, Madison Cate, and son, Jackson Rhoad.
BLUE RAIDERS ON RILEY
Rick Insell (MTSU Women’s Basketball Head Coach)
“Chris Massaro informed me of Matt’s passing and at that moment I felt like I lost a piece of my heart. Matt was a special individual and meant a great deal to my family and our basketball program. I don’t think I would have been at the Division I level without Matt Riley. He was my sounding board and always told me what I needed to hear, not what I wanted to hear. My players, coaches, and support staff all loved Matt. It’s a huge loss to our Blue Raider family and the entire community. He will be sorely missed but thought of every day.”
Rick Stockstill (MTSU Head Football Coach)
“Matt was a great ambassador, not only for Middle Tennessee football, but the entire athletic department. The positive impact that he had on so many athletes will be part of his legacy. My thoughts and prayers go out to all his friends and family.”
Kelly Holcomb (MTSU QB 1991-94)
“Coach Riley, D. Madison as I called him, was certainly an ambassador for Middle Tennessee. He became our strength coach my junior year after Doc Kreis left for another job. We kept in touch long after I left and remained great friends. He was such a great person who was always willing to listen and help. He will be greatly missed.”
Dejuan Buford (MTSU DB 1984-88)
“I am extremely saddened to hear about the loss of our Blue Raider brother Matt Riley. Matt and I played together back in the 80s. Matt always had more bark than bite. He was a GENTLE GIANT! He got along with EVERYBODY!!! Never had any enemies. He always cared about the well-being of his other Blue Raider teammates. Matt was not only a good teammate … Matt was just a great man, a GREAT Husband and Father. I loved what I saw from Matt in how much time and attention he gave to the Blue Raider family and the athletes that he trained and coached. I know without a doubt that we are all better because we had a relationship with Matt Riley. He will truly be missed! Rest In Peace big fella. Much Love, Dejuan Buford #20.”
Bill Brasch (MTSU OL 2001-2003)
“Coach Riley made a huge impact on my time playing football at MTSU. It was great having a fellow offensive lineman work with us on a daily basis. He knew what it meant to be a lineman and understood our struggles. Coach Riley was always there for us big guys. He was a great coach and person to be around and eventually became a good friend to me after I graduated. I am honored to have been one of his student athletes and, more importantly, his friend.”
Wes Counts (MTSU QB 1998-2001)
There was a placard on the old weight room door. How Do You Want To Be Remembered?
Let’s remember Coach Matt Riley.
Riley was a larger-than-life character, truly he was a big person and a character.
Matt Riley, as our strength coach, was going to get you stronger, increase your endurance, and make you mentally tougher. People should know Matt Riley was more than a strength coach.
Riley had many roles. He was the disciplinary hammer for the coaches and Riley didn’t mind laying the law down and making an example out of someone, himself. He would always make it a teaching moment about expectations, what it meant to be a Blue Raider.
One of his rallying cries was “It’s Hard Being Blue”, meaning it’s not for everyone, it’s special and a privilege to be at Middle Tennessee.
While he was our coach, he was much more. Riley was our counselor, therapist, and a parent figure. Riley knew everything and he knew every person that came through those weight room doors, regardless of sport. He knew who was dating who, he knew who was having a rough time and he knew who needed a dose of reality. It was a more personal relationship with Riley, he was not your buddy, but he was your friend. We could talk to Riley and know the conversation wouldn’t go past those walls.
Riley set the tone; he was the thermostat. He knew when it was time to lock-in and get serious about a task and he could also loosen up a room with a witty comment that would get a room laughing. For us that know Riley, we will always remember him laughing and how his squinty eyes looked on his big, bald head.
Riley wasn’t just our coach; he was our fan and our cheerleader. It truly seemed he was happy for any success a person or team had that used his weight room. He was a sincere coach in the sense he wanted the opportunity for success to be accessible for any student-athlete no matter who they were or what sport they played.
Matt Riley was one of a kind. When the news of Coach Riley passing away spreads across the country it won’t just affect a single team, it will affect 30 plus years of Middle Tennessee student-athletes. Tears have and will be shed with this news, but there are a lot of great stories and memories that are left. We should all thank RJ, Madison, and Jackson for sharing Coach Riley with us.
Today, It Really Is Hard Being Blue.