When Friends fired Monty Lewis as its football coach last month, after 14 mostly-successful seasons, the administration explained its decision through its director of marketing and communication.
“We are undertaking a new revitalization and growth plan here at Friends and football is a really significant part of that program and are going to be leaders of that plan,” Gisele McMinimy said.
Nobody wants to give the real story these days. Friends, it appears, thought it was more important to string along some enticing verbs and nouns than to simply say the Falcons’ relatively new administrators, president Amy Bragg Carey and athletic director Carole Obermeyer, thought Lewis was past his prime.
“Reading that reasoning was frustrating for me,” said Lewis, who finally agreed to talk about his ouster this week after laying low since his firing. “I certainly feel like I could have or would have fit into any new type of approach or revitalization. That stings because I feel like I could have taken a part in that.
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“But in the same breath, I understand. You want to go a different direction? That’s the prerogative of the administration.”
What bothers Lewis most is that his son, three-time All-KCAC linebacker Josh Lewis, is stuck in the middle. He’ll be a senior for the Falcons in the fall, but he won’t be playing for his father. Former Hutchinson Community College defensive coordinator Dion Meneley, is Friends’ new coach.
Also, Monty Lewis’ wife, Nancy, works in IT at Friends.
It hasn’t exactly been Old Home Week since Lewis was let go.
“It’s tough with all of those players,” Monty Lewis said. “But my son, going into his senior year, that’s been the hardest part of this for my family. Quite a number of people at that institution feel pretty strongly about Josh and what hurts the most is that he’s in this situation. It’s not as though he’s naive, he understands the coaching profession and what can occur. We felt like we’d at least make it through his senior year.”
Lewis, 54, led Friends to a 93-52 record but the Falcons were only 3-8 two seasons ago before rebounding to 6-5 in 2016. He is the winningest football coach in Friends history and in the history of Southwestern College in Winfield, where he coached before moving to Friends.
Lewis said he knew his fate could be sealed when his long-time assistant, Matt Welch, was let go in December.
“Joined at the hip,” is how Lewis referred to his relationship, personal and professional, with Welch. “That decision was made by the president and AD, as well, and it immediately caused my radar to go up.”
But as weeks passed, Lewis hoped he could hang on. He said he was determined to get Friends back to where it was from 2006-08, when the Falcons won the KCAC championship and advanced to the NAIA playoffs each season.
Lewis said he has talked to Meneley and hopes he succeeds.
“I don’t want that team to turn around and go 0-11, that wouldn’t make me feel good,” Lewis said. “It would make me sick to my stomach. I want to be there to help if (Meneley) needs me but I certainly don’t want to overstep. I recruited every one of those players and I want to see them do well. The cupboard isn’t bare, there’s a lot of talent on that team.”
Lewis plans to continue coaching. Somewhere. But he’s not going to jump at the first opportunity unless it’s the right opportunity. He doesn’t feel a need to rush and April isn’t exactly a time when schools are looking for coaches.
“I’ve had some buddies call me and I’m getting wind of a few possibilities that might be out there,” Lewis said. “I’ve heard from friends who are hearing about changes that might be made here or there. But as for what’s out there right now, there’s nothing that really interests me and that’s no offense to those that might be looking for a coach somewhere. I just don’t want to be taking a band-aid job.”
Lewis said he went to Friends’ spring scrimmage last week and, unless something changes, hopes to be at every Falcons game next season.
“It doesn’t matter what any of us are going through, I have always loved watching Josh play football,” Lewis said. “He got a pick-six in the scrimmage and was making plays and yet there’s that dark cloud that kind of hangs over you when you’re done.”
As of now, Lewis said Josh plans to play his senior season at Friends.
“He has some options and they’re kind of playing out in front of him,” Monty Lewis said. “Deep down, I think he’d really like to finish with the guys he came in with. It goes without saying, though, that his dad getting fired as affected the way he feels about things.”