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Sean Lynch: Lewis leaves Blue Devils with no regrets

Sean Lynch
Sean Lynch Sean Lynch

Tony Lewis knew it was time.

With 33 years of coaching experience, the former Merced College football coach had learned to let public opinion slide off of his back.

He couldn't, however, shake his own criticism as easily.

The effort was still there.

The fire for teaching and shaping young men into not just football players but useful citizens, still burned.

But the formula wasn't working anymore.

Never one to duck a tough question from a reporter, Lewis granted the same courtesy to himself.

Should something change?

The Blue Devils ended 2008 with a 2-8 record. It extended MC's run to 11 straight seasons without a winning season.

And the losses took their toll on Lewis.

"The frustrations of not getting the win-loss records that we thought we could began getting to me," Lewis admitted. "Unfortunately, people look at that and start associating that with your program, instead of the positive things you've done.

"I'd always been able to cut a pretty good balance between my home life and my work life, but the losses started coming home with me.

"When you start taking the losses home, that's a good sign that it's time to get out."

In his 19 years as a head coach, Lewis compiled a 92-114-1 record. He 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.

Still, in our "what have you done for me lately" society, all the talk was of the recent run of disappointment.

Any concerns that the last decade would be his legacy, however, were quickly dispelled when word of Lewis stepping down spread.

Always an emotional guy, the outpouring of kind phone calls, e-mails and letters from former players, teammates and parents of players overwhelmed Lewis.

"I'd hoped that people would see the whole career instead of just the last few years," Lewis said "I think there have been a lot of successes, especially with the development of players.

"I admit, my biggest concern has always been placing our guys at four-year schools, but I'm very proud of the fact that more than 90 percent of our athletes move on.

"I want to be remembered as a guy who made the players better people."

While Lewis acknowledged it was a good time to step away, there are some things he'd have liked to accomplish.

The coach left 10 wins shy of Don Odishoo's school-record of 102 and eight wins shy of the prestigious 100-win mark.

"That's the reason I would have most liked to continue," Lewis said. "Having played for and then coached with coach Odishoo, I never needed to break his record.

"But to win 100 games at the JC level is one of those milestones that really puts you up there with the elite coaches."

Even without the 100 wins, Lewis leaves a legacy that's going to be tough for any replacement to match.

"I'd like to see the school bring in a coach that's more concerned with the kids than winning and losing," Lewis said. "If he can do both, more power to him.

"Any coach that comes here is going to have their challenges, but you have to have the energy to balance recruiting, placing graduating players and developing the ones that come back.

"You also have to have the attitude that you're going to do it all.

"A lot of coaches don't want to fund-raise, but those are the things you have to do to put out a program in Merced."

Lewis hasn't been approached by the school, but did say he'd like to be a part of the search for his replacement.

"I'd love to be on the committee," Lewis said. "Or if people think that's a little too much, I'd at least like to consult it.

"When you're involved in a program for so long, you just want to make sure the next guy is going to keep taking care of it."

Sean Lynch is a Sun-Star sports writer. He can be reached at 385-2476 or via e-mail at slynch@mercedsun-star.com.

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