WVU Sports Hall of Fame
Art "Pappy" Lewis
Written by John Antonik
Art "Pappy" Lewis will always be remembered as one of West Virginia University's most productive football coaches. His association with football spanned four decades, and Lewis left his mark everywhere he went.
Back to Hall Of Fame
Born February 18, 1911, in Pityme, Meigs County, Ohio, Lewis was a standout tackle at Middleport High School in Middleport, Ohio. It was as a 21-year-old freshman player at Ohio University in 1932 that Lewis first acquired the nickname "Pappy" and it stuck wherever he went. Earning Little All-America honors at tackle, Lewis played in the 1935 East-West Shrine Game and was later drafted in the first round by the New York Giants (the Giants' first-ever draft selection). He played one year with the Gaints.
After coaching one year at Ohio Wesleyan College, Lewis joined the Cleveland Rams in 1938 as an assistant coach and a year later he assumed the head coaching duties on an interim basis in the middle of the 1939 season at age 27 - the youngest head coach in NFL history. One of his greatest moments as a coach came during that season when his Rams defeated the great Chicago Bears twice.
Following a stint in the Navy from 1942-45, Lewis became the head football coach at Washington and Lee University. Though going 11-17, Lewis found his niche as a recruiter (several of his recruits coming from West Virginia) and turned the school into a formidble opponent.
After one year as line coach at Mississippi State, Lewis was appointed head football coach at West Virginia University in 1950, a job he said he had always wanted. After guiding West Virginia to two lackluster seasons in 1950 and 1951, he steered WVU to a 7-2 record in 1952, including victories over nationally ranked Pitt and South Carolina. The Pitt win was the school's first-ever against a nationally ranked team.
The reason for the turnaround was simple: Lewis assembled the greatest collection of football players in school history. Sam Huff, Bruce Bosley, Fred Wyant, Joe Marconi, Chuck Howley, Tommy Allman, Larry Krutko,Gene "Beef" Lamone and Bobby Moss were just a handful of the great players Lewis brought to Morgantown.
In 1956, the Saturday Evening Post spent a week on the recruiting trail with Lewis to describe his tactics. "With a safety lamp on his cap, he'll go into the belly of a mine to talk to a coal-digging father about a football son. He'll drink straight vodka with an immigrant mother, go trout fishing at dawn with a boy who loves the rod, or seek out a prospect deep in the back woods where modern transportation couldn't budge. It's not for nothing that Lewis is referred to in some quarters as `America's No. 1 football recruiter."
Lewis was also an outstanding fundamental coach who wanted his football players big and tough. That forumla led West Virginia to its first-ever major bowl appearance when the Mountaineers played Georgia Tech in the 1954 Sugar Bowl. The greatest win that season was a 19-14 win over Penn State, a team led by future professional stars Lenny Moore and Roosevelt Grier.
Lewis led West Virginia to another outstanding season in 1955 with an 8-2 record, but late losses against Pitt and Syracuse kept the Mountaineers from a return trip to a bowl game.
When Huff, Bosley, Wyant and then Howley graduated, Lewis' teams began to fall off in the late 1950s. In 1960, he resigned his coaching position to accept a scouting job with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Lewis held that post until his death of a heart attack on June 13, 1962. Winning 58 games as a Mountaineer coach, including a 30-game Southern Conference winning streak, his win total was a WVU record that lasted 28 years. He was inducted into the West Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 1966.