By Joel Poiley
A skilled cornerback, Tim Lewis was known for his hard-hitting and ball-hawking defense during his four seasons in the NFL from 1983-86 with the Green Bay Packers.
He’ll bring those same intense traits as Birmingham’s head coach in the new Alliance of American Football (AAF) when it begins play next February.
Lewis spoke passionately about what attracted him to the AAF and his first head coaching position when he was introduced to the Birmingham community in June.
“That vision that Charlie Ebersol, Bill Polian, Troy Polamalu, Justin Tuck and the other former players who are involved had of putting high quality football on the field in the spring, fueled by an alliance between the players, the fans and the game itself, really excites me,” Lewis said. “I’m humbled and honored to get this opportunity.”
A first-round pick of the Packers (11th player chosen overall) in 1983 out of the University of Pittsburgh, Lewis led or shared the team lead in interceptions in his rookie year and 1985, totaling 16 for his career. Packer fans will recall his 99-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Los Angles Rams in 1984.
His career was cut short by a severe neck injury suffered in a Monday Night game against Chicago in the third week of the 1986 season. He wanted to continue playing, but doctors told him he would risk permanent paralysis after they discovered he had a narrow spinal cord. He retired two days after the injury.
The 57-year-old Lewis began his coaching career in 1987 at Texas A&M with his former college coach at Pittsburgh, Jackie Sherrill. He later became defensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers (2000-2003) and New York Giants (2004-2006). His 20-plus years of coaching also included stints at Atlanta, Carolina and Seattle as either a secondary or defensive backs coach.
Birmingham will play its AAF games at historic Legion Field, home to the University of Alabama Blazers and site of many memorable college games, including the annual Iron Bowl between Auburn and Alabama for many years.
The upbeat Lewis said given how AAF teams will look for local talent, he expects fans to flock to games to see familiar faces.
“By the allocation of players and by the way we’re going to pick and put our teams together, I couldn’t think of a better hotbed of football than this area of the country,” Lewis said. “We’ve got Alabama, we’ve got Auburn, we’ve got universities around here locally that will help us put our team together in a fantastic and dynamic way.
“When you sit in the stands with your family and you’re watching the same kid that you just watched for two, three or four years at the local university, it’s going to be fantastic.”
Justin Tuck, an AAF investor, played for Lewis in New York when Lewis was the Giants defensive coordinator. He expects Lewis to run a tight ship.
“Coach Lewis is a committed guy,” Tuck said. “A no-nonsense guy; a guy that’s a teacher. Someone who is more than X’s and O’s. Obviously, he knows the game of football very well. But he also knows how to be an example for those players he’s commanding.
“He’s going to be committed to making sure that they understand that they are going to do things right, not only on the field, but off the field. He’s a family man. A man who is going to be committed to the community. We (the AAF) are lucky to have him.”