One of Beaufort County's most successful football coaches may be walking away after a decade with his program.
Tommy Lewis, who has guided Hilton Head Christian Academy to four state titles and six championship appearances in the last seven years, has begun to look for other coaching opportunities, he confirmed Friday. The Eagles coach met with headmaster Matt Skinner to discuss the move Friday before making the news official.
"There are some budget cuts being made by the headmaster and board, and my salary and benefits package were one of the areas that they felt like they needed to either cut or shuffle around some resources," Lewis said. "It's a significant enough cut where I feel like I'm compelled, for the sake of my family and trying to take care of them the best I can, that I need to look for employment elsewhere."
While nothing is official, all signs point to Lewis' ultimate departure. The school has informed the Eagles coach that his contract offer for the next academic year will be on the table should he be unable to find another position. However, Skinner still plans on moving forward with a search committee to begin the process of finding the next coach, whom he hopes to have in place "fairly quickly."
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"It's a balancing act," Skinner said. "It's a tension that we feel just about every year with some particular position. ... We're going to have very clear and open lines of communication so that we know exactly what is going on."
How the two sides got to this point is a story that began more than a year ago. After being hired by Hilton Head Christian last summer, Skinner sat down with Lewis to discuss the coach's strengths and weaknesses, with the latter, Lewis said, being his lack of passion for administration work. At the time, the Eagles coach was in his sixth year as the school's athletics director.
About one month later, Skinner approached Lewis with the idea of giving up his administrative duties without losing any of his annual compensation in the process.
"I said, 'Wow. If we are going in that direction and I can keep my compensation where it is, sign me up,' " Lewis recalled. " ... I was all on board with that. I believe that was certainly Matt's intention, to make that happen."
The plan, however, didn't cooperate. As Kenny Conroy prepared to take over the AD position, Lewis was forewarned that the school may not be able to supply him with his usual income. That's when the Eagles coach first began to look at other coaching opportunities, but ultimately came up short in those hiring processes.
"I decided that I was going to make a change in the athletics director," Skinner said. "We had the conversation of whether I would be able to make up that lost revenue on his part with some additional responsibilities. Unfortunately, I couldn't and that's kind of where we find ourselves."
Lewis continued to remain optimistic that he would be able to stay, however, as the 2012 season progressed.
"Maybe I was too naive or too hopeful in thinking it could be worked out," he said.
On Nov. 9, as his Eagles prepared for Florence Christian in the SCISAA 2-A semifinals later that night, Lewis was informed by Skinner that there would indeed be "significant" cuts to his income. He remained mum on the subject until after Hilton Head Christian captured its second straight title, which is when he held a team meeting to discuss his future on Dec. 7.
"I felt like my hand was being forced to look in the interest of my family," he said. "I asked for their understanding and forgiveness and (that) I'm not gone yet, it's not for sure. I did tell them ... that I'm doing my best to find another job."
Lewis said he has "hard leads" on a handful of jobs, but doesn't expect to hear anything until the new year. He has not ruled out coaching at the public school level or a return to the college ranks, where he served as an assistant at Hampden-Sydney during the mid-90s.
Skinner, meanwhile, expects to have some preliminary work done in the search before Christmas but does not plan on the search heating up until January.
Lewis' duties as a teacher and coach of the track team -- which had its inaugural season in 2012 -- remain the same until the end of the academic year.
Should Lewis find new employment, he would leave with numerous program firsts, including the school's first winning season, playoff victory, 10-win season, state title appearance and state title, undefeated season and back-to-back championships. He became just the second head coach in the program's short history when he replaced the late Jim Carlen in April 2003 and went on to compile a 97-28 record with four titles in his 10 seasons with the Eagles.
In all, he made nine consecutive appearances in the state semifinals and is credited with all but two of the school's all-time wins. He was The Island Packet/Beaufort Gazette Coach of the Year in 2006, 2008 and 2009.
"Believe me, as a sports fanatic myself, I certainly understand the value that Tommy has brought to this institution," Skinner said. "However, I'm tasked with looking at the bigger picture of the school. We are embarking on some very impressive academic goals that we've set as a school and that sometimes means a reallocation of resources.
"That's really kind of what we're facing right now. I never want to diminish what Tommy's done."
The coach's departure also would mean the departure of his son, sophomore Caleb Lewis, who has quarterbacked the Eagles to state titles in each of his two seasons at the helm of the offense.
"Our children have grown up here," Lewis said. "It's been a very special place for us with special people. The HHCA community and the Hilton Head community in general has been very supportive and loving group of people. we've grown very fond of this place.
"But at the same time, the situation being what it is, we've come to grips with it. We've come to terms with it."
THE TOMMY LEWIS FILE
Record: 110-48 overall, 97-28 at Hilton Head Christian Academy
2012: HHCA, head coach, 12-1, SCISAA 2-A champions
2011: HHCA, head coach, 13-0, SCISAA 2-A champions
2010: HHCA, head coach, 10-2, SCISAA 2-A semifinalists
2009: HHCA, head coach, 12-1, SCISAA 2-A champions
2008: HHCA, head coach, 8-4, SCISAA 2-A semifinalists
2007: HHCA, head coach, 8-5, SCISAA 2-A semifinalists
2006: HHCA, head coach, 10-3, SCISAA 2-A champions
2005: HHCA, head coach, 11-2, SCISAA 2-A, semifinalists
2004: HHCA, head coach, 12-1, SCISAA 2-A semifinalists
2003: HHCA, head coach, 1-9
2002: Norfolk (Va.) Academy, assistant coach
2001: Norfolk (Va.) Academy, assistant coach
2000: Norfolk (Va.) Academy, assistant coach
1999: Norfolk (Va.) Academy, assistant coach
1998: Greenbrier (Va.) Christian Academy, head coach, 3-8
1997: Greenbrier (Va.) Christian Academy, head coach, 6-5
1996: Greenbrier (Va.) Christian Academy, head coach, 4-7, playoffs
1995: Hampden-Sydney College, assistant coach
Family: Married, five children
Education: BBA Business-Marketing, William & Mary, 1988; MBA Business-Marketing, William & Mary, 1991