Pitt opens spring practice Sunday, kicking off Year 2 of the ACC era and Year 3 of the Paul Chryst era. We caught up with Chryst's newest staff addition, receivers coach Greg Lewis, to preview the position and learn about his rapid rise up the coaching ranks following a stellar NFL career with the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings.
How did this opportunity come about?
Greg Lewis: I've always wanted to coach at the highest level of college football, and I got an opportunity to do some interning with the Eagles when Coach (Andy) Reid was there, and that sort of kick-started my coaching career. I got an opportunity to get out to the University of San Diego, which has been a hotbed for coaches to start their career, and I did a good job down there and our head coach (Ron Caragher) got the job at San Jose State the next year and took me with up there with him, and it was a great opportunity out there. We did well. Offensively, we had some great numbers, some good receivers that I helped be a little better than they had been the previous year, and I saw an opportunity when Coach (Bobby) Engram got the job in Baltimore to maybe get out to Pittsburgh. And I talked to Coach (Jim) Hueber and Coach Chryst and they brought me out here and it was a good for me, and they felt confident in what I bring to the table, and it was basically a done deal from there. I'm excited to be a part of what we're doing and really get started.
Did you have any kind of connection with Coach Chryst before? How did you get into the interview process?
GL: I didn't know Coach Chryst personally; I knew of Coach Chryst and what he did. I played at Illinois and he was at Wisconsin, so I saw what they were doing there, and obviously they were good all the time, and offensively they had some guys that put up some numbers, and it was a good fit. And me being in Minnesota with the Vikings, I knew Coach Hueber -- he's the O-line coach here at Pitt and he was the O-line coach at Minnesota when I was there -- so when the opportunity came available I contacted him first and saw if he could gauge any interest in the job opportunity here at Pitt, and Coach Chryst liked what he saw, liked what he heard from me and about me, and he brought me in for an interview. So other than that I didn't know him personally, but I knew of him.
What do you think of what you've got in front of you here, particularly Tyler Boyd? What are your initial impressions of him?
GL: I spent some time with Tyler and he's a very hard-working kid, very humble and what really stood out to me is that he wants to get better. He wants to get coached and he wants to be better than he was the previous year. And that's a big step, but he's willing to put in the work to do that and to achieve those goals. I wasn't here for him so I'm not going to say he's Larry Fitzgerald by any means, but he did a tremendous job being a freshman last year, a freshman All-American, and now he's got to back it up and do it again and do more than he did the previous year, and he's willing to do that. And that's all you want as a coach are guys that want to work and want to get better. That's easy to coach. And I expect big things from him, as well as the rest of the young guys that we have here in the program, so it's going to be exciting this upcoming season.
You mentioned the young guys. Not a lot of people are familiar with a lot of those guys, especially after Devin Street just graduated. What do you think you have behind Tyler Boyd? Who are some guys you think could make some names for themselves this spring and work their ways into big roles this fall?
GL: Ronald Jones, he's a junior, not young, but he's a quick, fast-switch guy that has playmaking ability. He'll have an opportunity to get out there and show what he can do this spring. (Kevin) Weatherspoon, another older guy, I see him stepping his role up from what he did the previous three or four years, has the opportunity to do some things. And then we got the young guys. Jester Weah, he's fast, he's extremely fast. Big, imposing figure, big opportunity to take another step from last year as a freshman to this year, coming in and getting an opportunity to play. And we've got (Zach) Challingsworth and (Chris) Wuestner, two guys that have the opportunity to come in and do the same thing. We've got a lot of big, imposing guys that are very physical and very fast. Just fine-tuning and getting confident in the offense and what they need to do and what they need to work on. There will be big things for them ahead.
Recruiting-wise, do you have a specific territory? How are you going to approach that?
GL: I haven't sat down and really got into the recruiting aspect of it yet with Coach, but obviously I'm going to have some type of area, and whatever area that is, I'm going to dive in head-first and get after recruiting and continue getting guys that fit the program and what we're trying to do here. I'm excited about that part. I actually like recruiting, so I'm excited to get started with that as well.
Recruiting obviously is one part of the job. I'd imagine you, just getting out of the NFL a couple years ago, are probably running into teenagers who are more familiar with you as an Eagles wide receiver. Does it seem kind of strange being on the other side of that?
GL: Not really. I feel good that they do see me as sort of a role model and they watched me play before. It's given me a sort of leg up, so to speak, in some aspects because I've done what they're trying to do, and I'm teaching what they're trying to do now. And they want to learn from somebody that has done it at some time. And I use that to my advantage in recruiting in trying to get guys to buy into what I'm trying to teach or what the program is trying to build. So I like it. I think it's positive for the program and for myself and for the kids. Everything they're trying to go through or going through at this present time, I've been through it all. Every single thing. And what they're trying to get to, I've done that, too. So I'm just trying to impart knowledge on the guys with the situations that I'm in and what to expect when they get there.
Being relatively young, and presumably in shape, how tempting is it for you now just as a coach to go out there and want to get back on the field, whether it's just to show them a drill here and there or to show yourself you still have it?
GL: It's actually a benefit for me just being able to actually demonstrate some of the drills and do some of the things. No, I don't want to get back out there and catch passes or run routes or do anything of that nature. But being able to show them exactly what I mean -- because some guys are visual learners, and they need to see it done, to see exactly what you mean, whereas some guys can get it and go do it. But I think seeing something done benefits me as a coach and it benefits the players as well. Because this is exactly what I want, this is exactly how I want it done and I know it works. So I think it's cool. But no, my cleats are hung up, my helmet's put up, I'm not doing anything physical (laughs).
Who would you say have been some of your mentors as a coach so far? Even going back to your college or high school days. Was this something that was ever in the back of your mind at a young age that you knew you wanted to eventually do?
GL: My high school coach (Rich Murphy, from Rich South in Chicago), he just was always on me as far as just trying to be the best I can be and stuff, so he sort of started the whole deal with his dedication to our program, which wasn't a great program, but seeing the time and effort that he put into us and then it came to fruition and he got something out of it, it was rewarding for him and it was rewarding for us. That sort of started it a little bit. When I got to college I was just more focused on playing and whatnot. My receivers coach, Coach (Robert) Jackson, was a great mentor. I could talk to him about anything, so that sort of helped, and I wanted to mold myself into that a little bit, having an open-door policy with guys and having them feel a little more comfortable with me. Coach (Andy) Reid with the Eagles, I just liked everything about what he stood for and how he went about doing things. And I told him when I got there that I wanted to get into coaching, and I would tell him every year that I was interested in coaching. I always saw myself as the extension of the coach, whether it was playing basketball or football or any sport. Players would always look to me for what to do. I considered myself a coach, so why not do it for a profession once I'm done?
Got to ask you this one, being a former Eagle: Philly or Pittsburgh?
GL: (Laughs) Living or team?
GL: Living, I can't say right now because I haven't been in Pittsburgh long enough to get a good sample, but thus far there have been good people out here, stuff to do. It sort of reminds me of Philly. Going from California to out here, I feel more at home in Pittsburgh and in Philadelphia, being a Midwest guy. California was awesome, it was just different for me. I wasn't used to it on the West Coast, so I didn't know too much about it.