Coach Lewis wins over Yellow Jackets Team regroups after blowout loss

October 10, 1992|By Marlon Manuel | Marlon Manuel,Contributing Writer

ATLANTA -- Three weeks ago, the pain of transition was etched on the faces of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and beamed through on the scoreboard of Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, Va.:

Virginia 55, Georgia Tech 24.

With that, the start of the Bill Lewis Era hit a crucial juncture. You expect growing pains during a coaching change, even though Tech hired Lewis away from East Carolina -- where he was national coach of the year in 1991 -- to replace Bobby Ross, who bolted to the NFL's San Diego Chargers.

But the 31-point loss looked and felt like more than growing pains.

"That [transition] could have played a part in it," Lewis said. "But there were so many things that just came together on the same day against a pretty good football team, from lack of concentration, to lack of execution, to lack of intensity.

"Perhaps us not knowing how to play a big game together, who knows?"

In the days following that debacle, Tech was this close to disintegrating as a team. But, Lewis urged, Tech also was this close to putting it all together.

Evidence for the latter: Tech rebounded with two dramatic victories and knocked Clemson and North Carolina State out of the ACC race. The No. 17 Jackets (3-1 overall, 2-1 ACC) now say the only thing keeping them from the conference title -- outside of today's game with Maryland -- is Florida State.

Of course, victories make change palatable.

"I thought it was kind of slow at first," said Tech inside linebacker Jamal Cox, a graduate of Gilman. "It was kind of difficult having a new coach, having a new way of doing things. "But so far, we're winning, so it's going OK."

After cracking against the Cavaliers, Tech players conducted bouts of soul searching, put their differences with coaches behind and, in the words of linebacker Marlon Williams, "We decided we wanted to win."

Initially, though, change didn't sit well with the Jackets, who also chafed when Ross arrived in 1987. Lewis brought with him five coaches from East Carolina and a bound volume of new policies and practice procedures -- all of which said to the Jackets, "Do it the Lewis way or no way at all."

The evening his hiring was announced in January, Lewis met the team in a lecture hall and began his discourse by saying, "Hats off, feet on the floor."

The most noticeable change from Ross to Lewis was the demand for physical conditioning. In the spring, Lewis rounded up the entire squad for 6 a.m. conditioning runs. The time was selected because it allowed everyone to participate and still attend classes.

The rigors continued through two-a-days in August with three-hour practices that ended with conditioning drills -- sometimes various sprints totaling 1,800 yards while dressed in full gear. Along with changes in play terminology, the running drew the most ire.

"We kind of complained about that a lot," Cox said. "It was kind of, 'What's this guy doing?' But now, we see games where other teams are getting tired, and we're in pretty good shape."

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