Hilton Head Christian Academy’s search for a new football coach became a little less complicated on Friday.
Former coach Tommy Lewis, who guided the Eagles to four state championships in seven years, accepted the head coaching position at Victory Christian Academy in Lakeland, Fla., Thursday evening, he confirmed to The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette.
“Me and my family are experiencing the definition of bittersweet,” Lewis said. “It’s certainly going to be a difficult thing to say goodbye to a lot of the HHCA family and friends that we’ve grown to know and love over the past 10 years. But we’re truly thankful and looking forward to what the Lord has next for us down in Lakeland.”
Lewis initially began searching for a new position last month, as budget cuts at Hilton Head Christian forced the 10th year coach to take significant cuts to his salary. Headmaster Matt Skinner left the door open to his return, however, as Lewis was informed that the school would honor his contract offer for the next year should he have been unable to find another job.
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"It's a balancing act," Skinner said last month. "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."
That balancing acting is no longer necessary. The Eagles have narrowed their search to 10 candidates, sources said, and will soon trim the list to five after telephone interviews end.
Lewis, meanwhile, heads to Florida to take over a Storm team that went 4-6 a year ago in addition to his duties as dean of students. He becomes the third head coach in less than a year at the school, as Andre Dobson left the program in November after less than 10 months on the job.
Oddly enough, it was Victory Christian that first contacted Lewis. The coach had spent several weeks prior sending out his resume to seemingly every other job available, but the Storm was not among those openings posted. He hadn’t heard of the open job until the school first reached out to him around Christmas.
“We just felt like it was a great place with a lot of potential and a great opportunity,” Lewis said. “We just felt like the Lord’s hand was in it and we made it official (Thursday) night.”
While he plans on getting his Victory Christian football program under way as soon as possible, Lewis confirmed that he will remain at HHCA until the academic year ends. He still plans on coaching track, despite its possible interference with spring football.
“I’m looking very forward to track season and finishing the school year the right way and going on the Dominican mission trip with the senior class,” Lewis said. “We definitely want to finish well and finish strong with our time at HHCA. We’ve been very blessed over the years and the HHCA family is special to us.
“ ... Mr. Skinner made it very clear to me that he wants to support everything that he can support on HHCA’s end to make the transition a smooth one. I will be going down and getting things going down at Victory. Obviously we’ll need to miss some school time here and there for that.”
Lewis leaves 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.