Scrolling through the long list of players and coaches that he’d just been named a part of, Tony Lewis said he felt humbled.
The former Merced College head football coach and current Blue Devil defensive backs coach had his 41 years of service as a player and coach on the MC campus recognized in Visalia on Saturday. Lewis became the seventh person with Blue Devil ties to be inducted into the California Community Colleges Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame at the 29th annual luncheon.
“It was a really nice ceremony,” Lewis said. “It’s the 29th one, so they really know how to put them together by now. It’s a neat honor because coach (Don) Odishoo is in it and Dave Pacheco is in it as a contributor for his work with the Elks Bowl all those years. Those are two guys that I was very close with, so it’s pretty neat to join them. This one was also special, because when I was named the head coach in 1989, my very first hire was Mike Cox. He was with Merced for a couple years before going on to Sierra and having a lot of success. So, getting to go in with him was pretty neat.
“When you read over the list of people that are already in the Hall of Fame, it’s an amazing feeling to be associated with them.”
The Los Banos High grad played under coach Odishoo from 1974-1975. He returned to Merced College in 1978 after earning his bachelor’s degree and was hired by Odishoo as the team’s defensive backs coach. He served as the defensive back coach for two years before getting promoted to defensive coordinator in 1980. He held that post for nine years, helping MC win six conference titles and make eight bowl game appearances during that span.
Lewis took over the head coaching duties in 1989 and held the post for the next 20 years. Merced posted a 90-114-1 record during his tenure as Lewis lead the team to three conference titles and the NorCal title in 1995. He was named the Central Valley Conference Coach of the year in 1995, ’96 and ’97 and the CCCFCA Region II Coach of the Year in 1995.
“The thing that always stood out most about Tony was his willingness to help his players succeed on and off of the field,” said MC coach Bob Casey, who played two years under Lewis. “He was always very persistent about what he wanted from us, either on the field or in the classroom, and it didn’t leave much choice but to do what he asked.
“He went through a lot of things in his time as a head coach, including Merced growing into a much bigger town in the ’90s. The thing he taught me the most as a coach is control the things you can control. You have to work with what you have instead of worrying about the things you don’t.”
Lewis said the Hall of Fame is broken up into five different categories, head coaches, assistant coaches, players before 1975, players post 1975 and contributors. Inductees must be nominated by someone in the CCCFCA and then each conference gets one representative for the voting.
“I had a really excellent group there with me,” Lewis said. “There were a handful of friends, my parents. Unfortunately, only my middle daughter could be there, and of course my wife. They give everybody a little summary of the inductee’s career and then they have a PowerPoint presentation with the highlights.
“You’re supposed to keep your thank you speech to three minutes, but after 39 years of coaching, it’s kind of hard to say all of your thanks in just three minutes.”
The Merced College and Fresno City College baseball teams rarely meet up so early in Central Valley Conference play. The pair of conference powers have historically gotten together in early April with conference title implications on the line, but Cerro Coso’s admittance into the CVC has changed up the scheduling.
While just the second series into league play is too soon to draw conclusions, there’s no arguing that the road to the conference championship tends to run through the 57-mile stretch of the 99 that separates the two schools. At the very least, the annual series routinely produces some outstanding baseball. The three-game series gets underway Tuesday with a 6 p.m. tilt at Fresno City. The Blue Devils will host a 6 p.m. game on Thursday night and the series will conclude with a 1 p.m. contest in Fresno on Saturday.
MC (11-8, 3-0 CVC) enters the series having won 5 of its last six and outscoring its opponents 57-15 over the span. The Rams (15-4, 3-0 CVC) have won 14 of their last 15.