Chaparral High School’s first-year football coach Thomas Lewis was on an NFL sideline fighting for playing time every Sunday from 1994-98. Now he’s calling the plays on Friday nights, something he never envisioned.
When Lewis stopped playing wide receiver in the NFL after stints with the Chicago Bears and the New York Giants, he said he would never coach. He saw the time commitment it took to coach in the NFL, at the college level and even at the Peewee stage.
“I know a lot of times they (Lewis’s coaches) would have cots in the back room because they would be there until two or three in the morning,” said Lewis.
He volunteered to coach at Northwest Christian High School in Phoenix, where his daughters were going to school. Although Lewis never planned on coaching, he immediately fell in love with it and different schools started to seek him out.
“Helping groom and grow young men is really the most gratifying part of the job,” Lewis said.
Offensive line and associate coach Paul Germinaro said Lewis’s strongest trait is his passion for the players.
“And, how much he cares about them and their success on the field and off the field,” he said.
Defensive backs and corners coach Airibin Justin said Lewis leads his players off the field too.
“You have a lot of coaches that degrade kids and humiliate them, I never liked that as a player and you see what kind of effect it has on the kid and also on the team,” said Lewis.
“My whole thing is that I want to teach kids and I feel like if you have to scream or yell then you’re not an effective communicator. It’s how you deliver the message for the kids to be able to get it and execute it out on the field.”
Germinaro said Lewis is “kind of like that soft spoken parent that expects excellence out of you quietly, and then when he’s not getting it, he can push a button.”
Lewis emulates the coaching styles of Dick Vermeil, Tony Dungy and Pete Carroll.
Whether he is a blend of those legendary coaches or not, he is approachable, calm and motivates the team by talking to them about his experiences as a player.
“All the kids really respect him, his football knowledge and how much he cares about them,” said Germinaro.
Lewis is a motivator and a strategist. He wants to know everything that is happening on both offense and defense.
“For him it is not always what the kids need to do better, but it’s about what he needs to do better as well. He’s not putting everything on everyone else,” said Justin.
Lewis is a perfectionist who never wants to be complacent because he is an athlete and always has a competitive mindset, he says.
“This is where I’m at, I want to have success here,” said Lewis, “My wife always says if you’re comfortable, then you’re not growing.”
Editor’s note: Mr. Willoughby is journalism student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University