Written by John Antonik
He was known as by West Virginians as "Pappy," but he will forever be remembered as one of West Virginia University's most productive football coaches Art Lewis' association with football spanned four decades, and he left his mark everywhere he went.
Born February 18, 1911, in Pityme, Meigs County, Ohio, Lewis was a standout tackle at Middleport High School in Middleport, Ohio. Enrolling at Ohio University in 1932 as a 21-year-old freshman, Lewis acquired the nickname "Pappy." Earning Little All-America honors at tackle, Lewis played in the 1935 East-West Shrine Game. Drafted in the first round by the New York Giants in 1936 (the Giants' first-ever draft selection), Lewis played one year in New York.
After coaching one year at Ohio Wesleyan College, Lewis joined the Cleveland Rams in 1938 as an assistant coach. A year later, he assumed the head coaching duties on an interim basis in the middle of the 1939 season. At 27, he was the youngest head coach in NFL history. One of his greatest professional highlights came when he defeated the great Chicago Bears twice in the same season.
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 and built the Virginia school into a power by the early 1950s.
Coaching one year 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, he steered WVU to a 7-2 record in 1952, including victories over Pitt and South Carolina. The reason for the turnaround was simple; Lewis could flat out recruit! Sam Huff, Bruce Bosley, Fred Wyant, Joe Marconi, Chuck Howley, Tommy Allman, Larry Krutko and Bobby Moss were just a handful of the great players Lewis attracted to Morgantown.
In 1956, the Saturday Evening Post described Lewis' recruiting 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."
Duly noted as a recruiter, he was also an excellent coach who guided West Virginia to the 1954 Sugar Bowl. The greatest win that season was the Mountaineers' 19-14 win over Penn State, a team led by future professional stars Lenny Moore and Roosevelt Grier. Going 8-2 in 1955, his teams began to fall off after that. In 1960, he resigned his coaching position at WVU and accepted a position with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The team's top talent scout, 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. Lewis was inducted into the West Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 1966.