As Eagles' new wide receivers coach, Greg Lewis a good catch

Posted: February 12, 2016

HE RAN a post pattern, Greg Lewis recalls, faking a safety to the outside, digging hard inside, coming free down the middle in the end zone for the 30-yard Donovan McNabb touchdown pass.

For Eagles fans, the narrative about the last touchdown drive of Super Bowl XXXIX will always be about how long the sequence took (three minutes, 52 seconds to cover 79 yards in 13 plays, or, in talk-radio lore, forever and a day) and what McNabb was doing, as the minutes dwindled (trying to recover from a hit to the ribs, or, in talk-radio lore, puking, pouting over draft-day booing, pondering what would happen in the event of a tie).

But Lewis, recently hired as the Eagles' wide receivers coach under new head coach Doug Pederson, doesn't recall even being aware of the clock.

"My thoughts (during the drive) were to do my job," said Lewis, who was then a second-year undrafted free agent from Illinois. He was not expected to play a key role offensively, until starter Todd Pinkston left the game at halftime with cramps. "I was thrust into that role with Todd having been injured. I had to focus on my job, making sure I knew what I was supposed to do. I couldn't focus on anybody else."

The touchdown pass - the only TD catch in Eagles Super Bowl history by a wide receiver - came with 1:48 remaining, making the score 24-21 in favor of New England, which - spoiler alert - turned out to be the final score.

"It was a great route I ran," Lewis said. "They played cover zero and they brought some pressure. It was one-on-one with all the receivers. I was able to beat Dexter Reid, across his face, and Donovan was able to step up and deliver the ball."

Lewis lined up in the slot, after shooing away running back Brian Westbrook, Lewis said, who already had a TD catch that day.

"Me and Westbrook were arguing over who was supposed to be in the slot. I won; I was like, 'I'm going in here, you can go outside and run whatever you're gonna run.' "

Funny story, the interviewer told Lewis.

"Westbrook didn't think so," he replied.

As an NFL receiver, Lewis had his moments, including an ESPY-award-winning, back-of-the-end-zone catch from Brett Favre as a Minnesota Viking in 2009. But Lewis never established himself as long-term starter and was out of the league by 2011. So far, his coaching career has produced a much more impressive trajectory.

In four seasons since interning with the Eagles during their 2012 training camp, Lewis, who turns 36 on Friday, held four jobs before this one, going from the University of San Diego to San Jose State to Pitt to the New Orleans Saints last year, as an assistant to wideouts coach John Morton. Now he's in charge of an NFL position grouping, at a position where the Eagles struggled in 2015. Though all of Chip Kelly's assistants remained under contract, and seven were retained, the organization allowed receivers coach Bob Bicknell to accompany Kelly to San Francisco.

"I wouldn't say I've moved up quickly. I would just say I'm doing my job wherever I'm at . . . people may recognize it, but I'm not here for accolades or anything like that," Lewis said. "I just want to help people, receivers, most likely, get better . . . I've taken pieces from everybody and tried to implement 'em to what I try to coach receivers to do."

What does he stress?

"Catching," said Lewis, who just might be aware that his charges led the NFL in drops last season. "Obviously you want other attributes that you hear people talk about on TV . . . but at the end of the day, if you can catch, there's an opportunity for you to play receiver in the NFL, particularly with the Eagles."

Former Eagles center Hank Fraley, now an assistant offensive-line coach with the Vikings, helped Lewis get his first coaching job, encouraging Lewis to call then-University of San Diego coach Ron Caragher; Fraley, then Caragher's o-line coach, happened to be visiting during Lewis' Eagles internship. Caragher ran a West Coast offense.

"I told him, 'We don't have a wide receivers coach,' " . . . we'd both played in that (offense) for so many years, I thought, 'This'd be perfect,' " Fraley recalled. He said Caragher hired Lewis on the strength of a phone interview and Fraley's recommendation.

In 2013, Fraley and Lewis accompanied Caragher to San Jose State. The next year, Paul Chryst hired Lewis at Pitt. When Chryst left for Wisconsin, Lewis used a coaching contact from his playing days at Illinois to land an interview and a job with the Saints.

Then, last month, Pederson needed a wideouts coach, amid what seems to be an organizational attempt to evoke the better parts of the Andy Reid era.

Lots of former players try to get into coaching. Few move up the ladder as quickly as Lewis, who is only five months older than the senior current Eagle, long snapper Jon Dorenbos. Why is Lewis - one of three African-American coaches in charge of position groupings on Pederson's staff, along with running backs coach Duce Staley and defensive-line coach Chris Wilson - in such demand?

"He's personable. He really cares about who he's coaching," Fraley said. "He likes to have a good time, but you know when he's serious. He's able to get the most out of everybody, and he understands it - especially the position he's coaching . . . he has a great background, how he got to the league, being a role player, being able to accomplish what he did. A lot of guys respect that. Especially in the college game."

Lewis said he applied for the Eagles internship four years ago because he'd always seen himself moving in that direction, eventually.

"Ever since grade school, being an extension of the coach, playing point guard in basketball, playing quarterback in football - I just felt like coaching was a calling, and teaching as well," Lewis said. "Every family member that I have has been in the teaching profession."

As a player, Lewis walked on at Illinois, then accomplished the same feat in the pros; he made himself part of the plan.

"In the pros, to have the respect, he's done it, he's been there, he had to work at it," Fraley said. "That's what makes him a good coach. When you're less talented than other people - Greg was a good receiver in my mind, but him and I weren't the most talented guys on the field - you've got to really work at it and be a student of the game and understand technique and how to get it done the right way; our talents aren't going to win the route, win the block.

"He's able to relate to people and get it through what he's asking people to do, and get it out of them . . . I saw how (Lewis' players) grew from spring ball to being on the field in games.

"He is a bright guy. He is so smart. I don't think people realize until they get to be around him (consistently), this guy knows a lot of stuff."

Lewis hasn't yet gathered his Eagles receivers, a young, unaccomplished group that got even younger when the team released six-year veteran Riley Cooper this week.

"I'm excited about the guys we have here," said Lewis, who said he interviewed Eagles 2015 first-round pick Nelson Agholor at last year's Scouting Combine, on behalf of the Saints, and was impressed.

Given that Pederson is bringing in a new system, the youth of the wideouts shouldn't be a big issue, Lewis said.

"Everything we're doing is going to be new to everybody," he said. "We're all learning it together."

When he fired Kelly and hired Pederson, Eagles chairman Jeffrey Lurie talked about the importance of coaches knowing the team's history and its fan base. There Lewis certainly has an edge. Asked what he remembers most vividly about his trip to the Super Bowl, Lewis doesn't mention the touchdown, which was his first in the NFL.

"We lost. It was a nice experience to be a part of, but at the end of the day, what I remember is walking off the field, seeing the Patriots on the field, celebrating," Lewis said. "That stuck with me, and it stuck for a while."

On Twitter: @LesBowen


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