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End of an era: Lewis steps down as Merced College football coach

After 19 seasons as head coach of the Merced College football team, Tony Lewis will be stepping down.

The school sent out a press release on Thursday announcing Lewis' decision, with the coach citing a desire to spend more time with his family.

Lewis' resignation marks the end of an era for a coach who has paced the Blue Devil sidelines in one capacity or another for the last 31 years.

"From his playing days, to being an assistant, to being a head coach, Tony exemplifies everything a Blue Devil stands for," MC athletic director Steve Cassady said. "That's what we'll be looking for in his replacement."

Cassady said Lewis will remain an academic counselor at the school and will continue to be the Blue Devil coach through the spring.

"Ideally you'd like to be able to fill the position quickly, but until you do it, you don't know how it's going to go," Cassady said. "Tony is only the third coach in school history, so we don't exactly have a procedure for this.

"With the coaching position comes a teaching position, so we're going to open up a national search.

"Tony will continue to help the sophomores find four-year schools to move on to, and the assistants that are out recruiting will continue to do that."

Cassady didn't rule out Lewis' successor coming from within the program or the area, but said all applicants will be considered on their merit.

Whomever MC finds to replace Lewis will be hard pressed to match the coach's accomplishments.

In his 19 years as a head coach Lewis compiled a 92-114-1 record. He's won a Northern California championship, nine conference titles, eight bowl games, a state title as an assistant and State Coach of the Year honors in 2005.

Lewis' 92 victories rank second in Blue Devil history behind only his mentor, Don Odishoo (102).

As impressive as Lewis' resume is, the thing he's proudest of is the number of lives he's been able to impact.

Lewis wasn't available for comment but did leave this statement in the press release.

"In my first year of coaching, we won the state championship," Lewis said. "That was a special moment. But what remains most gratifying to me is having been able to work with these young men and watch them grow into outstanding individuals.

"More than 90 percent of our athletes go on to four-year programs.

"We've had over 40 players move on to major college programs, and five were fortunate enough to have professional football careers in the NFL.

"I'm proud to be a part of that."

The Blue Devils struggled to a 2-8 record in Lewis' final season and the coach endured plenty of criticism over 11 straight campaigns of above .500 or worse football.

According to Blue Devil offensive coordinator Bob Casey, the public scrutiny didn't weigh into Lewis' decision.

"Even when I was playing for him and we were winning, people complained that we didn't have enough local guys," Casey said. "Then we recruited locally and they complained we weren't spreading it out enough.

"You know as a coach that you're always going to be under the microscope.

"I think because of the early success that Tony had, it was more a disappointment that we couldn't get back to that."

Despite the recent struggles, Cassady believes Lewis will be judged by his entire body of work.

"Coaching isn't easy and coaching at a JC really isn't easy," Cassady said. "Anytime someone turns in 30-plus years of dedication, you have to have a great deal of respect for them.

"Tony is and will continue to be synonymous with Blue Devil football."

Merced College President Dr. Benjamin T. Duran echoed Cassady's words.

"When Tony came to me with the news, I was torn," Duran said in the press release. "I know he deserves time with his family after all these years, but he is such a great role model for these young men and our football team.

"He certainly has left his mark on Blue Devil football."

Tony Lewis' Career

Record Con. Finish Bowl Appearance

1989 7-4 3rd Won Elks Bowl

1990 8-3 4th Won Elks Bowl

1991 3-7 6th None

1992 4-6 5th None

1993 6-4-1 4th Lost Elks Bowl

1994 7-4 2nd Won Elks Bowl

1995* 9-2 1st Won Elks Bowl

1996 7-4 1st Lost Elks Bowl

1997 8-3 1st Won Elks Bowl

1998 2-8 6th None

1999 3-7 5th None

2000 3-7 5th None

2001 3-7 6th None

2002 4-6 5th None

2003 5-5 4th None

2004 2-8 6th None

2005 2-8 6th None

2006 3-7 4th None

2007 4-6 3rd None

2008 2-8 4th None

* Ranked No. 1 in Northern California, No. 4 in the state and No.7 in the country.