Former Bucs outside linebacker David Lewis, a key defensive cog during the franchise’s initial heyday who later coached at Tampa Catholic, died Tuesday. He was 65.
Mr. Lewis, still serving on the Crusaders staff, died in Tampa. A cause of death was not known. He had struggled with health issues in recent years, surviving a heart attack and later having a pacemaker implanted.
Word of Mr. Lewis’ death sparked an outpouring of tributes on social media, many from Tampa Catholic alumni.
“You had to experience David Lewis, because he really was just a bigger-than-life personality,” said former Crusaders coach Bob Henriquez, a longtime friend and coaching colleague. “Just the way he interfaced with the kids, he had a way of connecting with them.”
Mr. Lewis had coached primarily from a golf cart in recent years yet remained indispensable, current TC coach Jeris McIntyre said. Despite his stature as a former Tampa Catholic head coach and a revered former Buc, no task was beneath the burly elder statesman widely known as “Coach Lew.”
“He would be making sure every day the water was there and the cases of water were there from the parents, if he had to go get it himself,” said McIntyre, a 1999 TC graduate.
“He was more than humble; very, very humble. Didn’t talk much about himself, but he always let us know that, ‘Hey, I’ve been there, done that,’ but he wasn’t gonna boast about himself or nothing like that.”
Mr. Lewis, who was born in San Diego, was an all-conference linebacker at USC and a member of the Trojans’ 1974 national title team (coaches’ poll) led by John McKay, who would become Tampa Bay’s inaugural head coach in 1976.
Mr. Lewis was a second-round pick of the Bucs in 1977 and among the constellation of defensive stars on the 1979 team that reached the NFC Championship Game, capping the franchise’s “worst to first” transformation.
“He was intimidating,” said former Bucs linebacker and teammate Richard “Batman” Wood, who also coached with Mr. Lewis for several years at Tampa Catholic.
“To me, he was one of the best outside linebackers that played football. You never saw a guy operate better. I mean, (legendary Bucs tight end) Jimmie (Giles) could tell you he made him a great player, working against a guy like David every day.”
A 1980 Pro Bowl selection, Mr. Lewis was traded to the San Diego Chargers for a third-round pick in 1982. He spent two more seasons in the NFL before embarking on his lengthy prep coaching tenure, the majority of which he spent at Tampa Catholic.
He served as Crusaders coach from 1986-90, amassing a 33-19 record with a district title. He then hung around to assist Henriquez, his predecessor, remaining a fixture on the TC sideline, aside from brief stints at a couple of other area schools.
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“He was a big, huge personality,” Henriquez said. “It’s not gonna be the same there without him.”
Mr. Lewis is survived by his wife, Bonnie, and a daughter, Brianna, and predeceased by a son, Brian.
“I just think of a joyous, happy man who just enjoyed life and did so much for so many — so many — young men and people that he touched in his life,” Wood said.
“He touched so many young men’s lives, and not just guys who played with him like myself.”