He could be as tough as rawhide, or as gentle as a grandmother. He was fierce yet kindhearted, cantankerous but reasonable. He remained independent, thoughtful, and hard-fisted all of his life, but was known as completely lovable as a coach--John the Baptist in tennis shoes. He was the kind of guy you didn’t mind getting stuck in a submarine with, and the cover of his playbook may have had only one word, “Attack.” I guess you could say he was easy to like but hard to know. He succeeded in a profession where even tough guys finish second. Basketball was not only his livelihood, but his life. Loyalty had always been one of his basic tenets. Some said he may have invented recruiting. He owned dark circles that hung like bunting beneath his eyes, and he had been known to chase a referee all the way to the dressing room. If you had the opportunity to visit one of his practices, you would come away with three ingredients for winning: you need good players, who could be physical, and who could push the ball in an up-tempo style of offense. He took his game all around the world, as he visited countries such as China, Germany, Spain, England, Korea, the Philippines, Japan, Brazil and Chile. Yet he always said, “There’s nothing like returning home to Houston.” My pal, Buck Showalter, Manager of the Baltimore Orioles, once said, “It’s not that I like to win so much; I hate seeing somebody else win.” That reminded me of basketball coach extraordinaire, Guy V. Lewis. A teacher at heart, he was some kind of basketball coach.
In 1985, I moved my family to Corpus Christi, Texas. The company I had joined and worked for at that time, known as Texas Pizza Corporation, had purchased the Pizza Hut franchises in El Paso and Corpus Christi and the surrounding markets. My job as Vice President of Operations was to oversee both markets and return them to profitability. The advertising agency we chose to use to help market our restaurants was known as the Winius-Brandon Agency. They were located in Houston, Texas. This agency was owned and operated by Art Casper. I later found out that Art had another passion, college basketball. For 28 years, Art had been one of the radio broadcasters for the University of Houston Cougars’ basketball program. So every year, Art would send me the Cougars’ schedule and allow me to pick three or four home games where I would join him in Houston, courtside at the scorers’ table. There I would chart rebounds, fouls, turnovers, or whatever Art wanted me to do. It also gave me a chance to meet some of the greatest coaches of the games, along with national broadcasters. Ray Meyer and his son Joey with DePaul, Don Haskins with UTEP, Denny Crum with Louisville, and “Digger” Phelps with Notre Dame were some of the best. Terrific broadcasters like Bucky Waters, Don Crique, Gary Bender and Cheryl Miller were on hand for nationally televised games.
Being from North Carolina and growing up enjoying Atlantic Coast Conference basketball, I naturally looked for ACC teams coming in to play Houston. On this occasion, the team was the University of North Carolina, coached by Dean Smith. It was a nationally-televised game and I was excited, to say the least. Former basketball coach and Houston legend, Guy Lewis, was in attendance and sat a couple of rows behind the U of H team. Lewis had retired after the 1986 season. I asked Art to introduce me to Lewis before the game. I had no idea that Art would set me up in front of this great coach. As we met, Art said, “Guy, I want you to meet a good friend of mine, Andy Purvis, who knows everything you would ever want to know about ACC basketball.” Lewis looked straight at me with disdain and said, “What in the hell would I want to know about ACC basketball?” I was so stunned I almost swallowed my tongue. Then Lewis smiled and stuck out his hand as Art started laughing. Lewis had taken five of his teams to the Final Four but had lost twice to ACC teams: UNC in 1982 and N.C. State in 1983. Those losses still didn’t sit very well with him. Art would never let me forget the look on my face that day.
Even though they went to different schools, Guy Lewis met the love of his life, Dena Nelson, while attending a high school dance in the 1930’s. They married in 1942 and had three children, Vern, Terry and a daughter Sherry, who died early at the age of 63. Sherry’s son, Noah, also survives the family. Dena passed away in June of 2015, five months before Guy. They had been married almost 73 years. Vern Lewis went to junior high school with my pal Ronnie Arrow, but they ended up playing at different high schools, each winning a Texas State title in basketball: Vern Lewis played for Houston’s Austin High School whose team won the state title in 1964. Ronnie Arrow played at Houston’s Jones, whose team won in 1965.
Guy V. Lewis left us on Thanksgiving morning, Thursday, November 26, 2015. He died of natural causes with his family by his side. Lewis had suffered in recent years from a stroke which occurred in February of 2012. He had been confined to a wheelchair and stayed out of the public spotlight. He was living in a retirement home in Kyle, Texas. Lewis was 93.
Guy V. Lewis’s story was a masterpiece as he was much more than a basketball coach. A wise man, Anatola France, once said, “To accomplish great things we must not only act, but also dream, not only plan, but also believe.” Lewis had them all, in spades. I’m very glad I got to meet him.