The Miami Dolphins-San Francisco game was just another contest to young Eric Lewis. His father was the 49ers running backs coach and the game was at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, Calif., which was close to his home, so what’s the big deal?
The 9-year-old Lewis didn’t realize what all the fuss was about until the police escorted the team bus for Super Bowl XIX.
“Then you realize something’s going on,” Lewis said.
Being a coach’s kid has its perks, like attending Super Bowls and Pro Bowls before puberty or telling classmates on Monday how Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Roger Craig were in his backyard over the weekend during the family barbecue.
So for Lewis, the son of longtime NFL coach Sherman Lewis, football has truly been part of his life from the very beginning. He’s now the secondary coach at the University at Buffalo, one of several stops after a successful playing career at San Diego State, where he was a four-year starter at cornerback.
Lewis spent the last two seasons at Weber State, where last season he was the defensive coordinator. There have been plenty of other stops like Eastern Michigan, Ball State, Louisville, Bucknell and the Green Bay Packers. UB coach Jeff Quinn said he liked adding someone to the staff with such a wealth of experience.
“He’s been around football all his life and he’s very knowledgeable,” Quinn said about Lewis, whose predecessor at UB, Maurice Linquist, left for Iowa State. “He’s coached at the highest level, he’s coached in our league so he knows the MAC and the recruitment and what we need.”
Before Lewis began his coaching career at St. Augustine High School in San Diego, his father offered some advice: “In every environment, you want to learn from the best people in your profession. Find out who the best coaches are, keep your mouth shut and listen to them.”
When Lewis was at Michigan State as a graduate assistant, head coach Bobby Williams showed him the ropes, as did assistants Bill Miller and Sal Sunseri, who are now on the staff at Florida State.
“Getting to see those guys who have been in the profession for a long time, seeing the work ethic that it takes and how they work with kids on a day-to-day basis was great,” Lewis said.
He worked under current Michigan coach Brady Hoke at Ball State where he coached the safeties and Mike McCarthy with the Green Bay Packers as a defensive quality coach. From all his mentors, Lewis learned to be himself.
“They’re not trying to be tough if they’re not tough, they’re not trying to be an intellectual if they’re not,” Lewis said. “Maybe you’re rough around the edges and you throw a suit on but you’re still a grimy offensive line football coach, that’s who you are and just accept that and be that.”
Lewis learned that if you’re true to yourself, the players buy into what you’re saying.
“The kids buy into authenticity,” he said. “I think that’s probably the biggest thing I picked up from both Coach Hoke and Coach McCarthy.”
Lewis likes the talent he inherited, largely because they play with a chip on their shoulders. Yes, Najja Johnson is gone but Cortney Lester, Marqus Baker and Dwellie Striggles all have experience and redshirt freshman Andrews Dadeboe is trying to elbow his way into the rotation.
“We have a lot of good players here,” Lewis said. “They all have something to prove, which is good.”