Brian Lewis took an unusual route to football. The new head football coach at Santaluces High is a “basketball player at heart,” playing the sport in college.
It took a friend suggesting he pursue a career in football to get Lewis into the sport, starting a career that has included a Canadian Football League tryout and coaching stops in semi-pro and Texas youth football.
The latest iteration of Lewis’ football journey brings him back to Florida, where the first-time high school coach replaces Brian Coe at Santaluces. Coe, a longtime coach in Palm Beach County, stepped down earlier this offseason after four seasons with the Chiefs, which included being named Palm Beach County Coach of the Year in 2018, a Class 8A state playoff berth in 2019 and a 3-2 record this past year.
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Lewis will bring a radically different offense to Santaluces. Certified in the Air Raid offense, Lewis plans to install the up-tempo, pass-happy attack, saying his teams “play basketball on a football field.”
His first order of business is finding a quarterback after the graduation of all-county honorable mention QB Thurlynne Benniefield. Lewis met the players for the first time Wednesday, the start of conditioning. Spring practice begins April 26, capped by a May 27th jamboree.
“This year is going to be very tough,” said Lewis, a former quarterback. “I don’t have a quarterback right now. It’s me finding a quarterback and developing a quarterback. Once I get that process going, I feel like we will be unstoppable in the districts.”
Lewis’ first football coaching job was a semi-pro team he founded in the Panhandle, Fort Walton Beach’s Northwest Florida Falcons. Lewis later coached middle school basketball and football in Fort Worth, Texas, and at Marsh Preparatory Academy in Dallas, where he also served as the athletic coordinator.
“It was just a culture change that needed to be done there,” Lewis said. When I was hired there, there were a lot of good athletes there. Just a bad culture. A lot of kids were getting in trouble and doing stuff that would prevent them from playing.”
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Lewis was ready to get back to Florida, and the beach. He was also drawn to Santaluces’ young nucleus of freshmen and sophomores. It didn’t hurt that principal Tameka Robinson was knowledgeable about football, asking Lewis X’s and O’s questions.
“It was a perfect fit,” Lewis said. “I knew they weren’t totally rebuilding.”
Before coaching, Lewis played college basketball at Pfeiffer University in North Carolina. He later transferred to the University of West Florida, which did not have a college football program at the time. He started getting into flag football, and eventually a friend suggested he try out for the CFL’s Ottawa Renegades.
Lewis said he got picked up by the team, but the Renegades ended up suspending play that year before eventually folding two years later, in 2008.
Drawn to football, Lewis got into coaching at the semi-pro level and attended the Official Air Raid Certification School. The course is taught by Hal Mumme, who developed the Air Raid offense in the 90s, and his disciples, including Mississippi State coach Mike Leach.
Lewis said he plans to have his assistants get certified in the course. He loves the offense’s simplicity and rapid pace. It’s why he’s bringing it to Santaluces.
“Football has different phases,” Lewis said. “At one point and time, it was wishbone and then it was the spread, and now, it’s the air raid.”