• 73°

SMITH COLUMN: Bill Lewis

Bill Lewis, Georgia’s secondary coach in the glorious football season of 1980, was in Athens recently to see the grandchildren, the ones living in Oconee County where his son, Geoff, is a teacher and coach.

While Bill and his wife, Sandy, are not exactly full-time grandparents, they spend as much time as possible in the Athens area and also Bozeman, Montana, with their other son, Mark, and his family.

Lewis’ last coaching stop was at Notre Dame with Charlie Weiss, but before the latter was fired, Bill retired from coaching. When he retired following the ’07 season, he became a fundraiser for Notre Dame athletics.  When he retired outright a few years later, he and Sandy chose to remain in South Bend.

Bill still keeps in touch with former coaching associates across the country.  When he is in Athens, he finds time to meet up with Steve Greer, Charlie Whittemore and Mike Cavan where the story telling and reminiscing include a harking back to 1980. There have been mini reunions with certain players like Frank Ros, the captain, Scott Woerner and Jeff Hipp. Reliving that remarkable season will never become flat and tiresome for the principals.

Every game in 1980 had a headline making star. Every game had an unsung hero. How do you define a great team? One that has overpowering talent? Or one that, with an unselfish bent, becomes the ultimate in achievement in the defining of the word T-E-A-M? The 1980 ‘Dawgs were the essence of the latter.

In a wide ranging conversation, Bill recalled with keen detail the 1980 season, four decades ago. Typical of the vignettes etched in his noggin is one about the Florida game.  Florida quarterback Wayne Peace was a precocious freshman. Gator offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan didn’t want to put Peace in a position of great responsibility which led to a diet of conservative don’t-beat-yourself plays leading up to Jacksonville.

For the Florida game, however, he came with a throw-and-catch scheme which had Peace throwing to an inside slot receiver, who found a soft spot in Georgia’s Cover 3 alignment. The Gators were eating Georgia’s lunch.  It was very simple but very effective.

Back in the spring, Lewis, who had learned about Cover 2 from Bud Carson at Georgia Tech (later the Pittsburgh Steelers), suggested to Erk Russell that they put the alignment into the play book but had not used the coverage in a game.  Late in the third quarter on the sideline, Erk told Bill to huddle with the players, diagram the formation and set about stabilizing the defense.

It worked with the Bulldog defense gaining a measure of control, but it still took a miraculous last-minute pass and run from Buck Belue to Lindsay Scott to win the game — a penetrating reminder that great teams find a way to win, whatever the challenge.