When Reitz High School football Coach John Hart announced his resignation last year, after leading the team to an undefeated season and a state championship, the Reitz faithful held their collective breath awaiting who would continue the tradition-rich football program. The Reitz administration tapped Tony Lewis, who served a decade as a Reitz assistant coach before leaving in 2000 to head a high school program in Wheelersburg, Ohio. His six seasons at Wheelersburg and respected reputation at Reitz proved valuable experience as he led the Panthers to a 9-2 record, only losing a close sectional championship game in his first year. Here, Lewis — a central Indiana native first lured to Evansville to coach with his former high school coach, then-Reitz football Coach Bob Gaddis — reveals his reasons to return, his reflections on his first year, and the thrills he feels from this football-fanatic city.
City View: What about Evansville convinced you to return to the city?
Tony Lewis: There were a lot of things that brought us back. My wife’s family is from Evansville. We had our daughter here. I lived on the West Side for 10 years. I loved the people who I met and enjoyed the West Side. It has its own unique qualities and traditions. That’s what made it special to me, and that’s what made me want to come back. The tradition of Reitz football — and being able to be a part of that again — was a big lure.
CV: How does it feel to be part of that tradition?
TL: I was here as an assistant when Reitz won its 500th game, and it was neat to be here as a head coach for the 600th win. As we tell our kids, they, along with myself and the rest of the staff, are a small part of the Reitz football tradition. It’s not a right to coach and play here. It’s a privilege and an honor, and you’re going to have to treat it as such. That means you’re going to have to work extra, extra hard to uphold the high expectations that go along with being a part of the Reitz football program.
CV: As a coach, what is it like to experience game days in Evansville?
TL: Football Fridays here are special. For big games against Mater Dei High School, our West Side rival, I can expect 7,000 to 10,000 people in the Reitz Bowl. That’s a unique setting for high school football, and it’s something that makes Reitz special.
CV: What were the challenges of leading a team that lost 30 seniors after an undefeated season?
TL: Coach Ron Hart did an unbelievable job and led Reitz to their first state championship under the current playoff format. That was pressure unto itself. He did a great job building the program up to what people expected it to be. But I’d rather be at a place that expected you to do well than a place that doesn’t have high expectations. It’s all in the way you look at it, and it makes you work that much harder.