SMITH: Nothing like a trip to the Conch Republic

Loran Smith

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 Weis, but before the latter was fired, Bill retired from coaching (his career also included a stint as Georgia Tech’s head coach from 1992-94). 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.

Living in a college town offers good living in a stimulating environment. If they want to sample bright lights, Chicago is only an hour away by train. Shopping, dining out, taking in a Cubs game or a new exhibit at a museum are easy options when they want to head to Chicago.

Bill, 80, 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 storytelling 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. He had parted ways with Wyoming as its head coach after the 1979 season when a new athletic director demanded that he fire his best assistant.

If Bill Lewis is anything, he is a loyal man. He refused and immediately set about finding jobs for all of his assistants. Suddenly he realized he dd not have one himself.

When he learned about the UGA job opening for a secondary coach, he reached out to Frank Broyles for whom he had worked and asked for help. Broyles called Vince Dooley who invited the job seeking coach for an interview. Lewis met with the Georgia coach and his defensive coordinator, Erk Russell. They were duly impressed.

One of the new coach’s first assignments was a follow up scouting trip to Huntsville, Texas, to evaluate Terry Hoage. Cavan and Greer had already recommended Hoage. Lewis closed the deal. If there has ever been a serendipitous signee, it was Hoage, who became one of the most celebrated signees ever in Athens.

Bill remembers the big games, difference making plays and defining moments that enabled Georgia to gain the winning edge to go undefeated and become national champions. Georgia won every close game, a total of six. Even with Herschel Walker on offense, there were several low scoring games which meant that the Bulldogs were a complete team — the defense doing its part to help bring about the undefeated season.

Lewis says he never saw a greater running back than Herschel in a 45-year coaching career which included eight years in the National Football League with the Dolphins. He can wax on without restraint with regard to Scott Woerner, Terry Hoage and Jeff Hipp and their particular abilities.

He remembers the burdensome heat in Knoxville and the public address announcer informing a fatigued crowd that there was no ice left in the stadium. In retrospect, he appreciates graphically that Dooley had prepared the team for a battle royal in such conditions.

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.

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