By the time San Diego State Media Relations emailed out an advisory to local media about a “Major News Conference Regarding the Football Program” at 7:05 pm on Tuesday night, the social media world was already well aware that Sean Lewis would be named the 19th head coach at San Diego State.
The school made it official at 7:29 am Wednesday morning, issuing a press release announcing the hire of Sean Lewis as head football coach.
A mere 150 minutes later, the SDSU band rocked its instruments and played the Fight Song, leading SDSU President Adela de la Torre, Athletic Director JD Wicker, Lewis, and his family through a procession through the Cox Business Lounge at Snapdragon Stadium to the area where the press conference was staged.
Lewis, his wife Sarah, and children, Rory and Kira, sat in the front row while Wicker and de la Torre spoke about why Lewis was the right man to move the football program forward in 2024 and beyond.
When the 6’7 head coach stood up and walked up to the stage to greet Wicker and de la Torre, his presence was felt. The festive atmosphere that flowed through the Lounge before, during, and after the event was vastly different than the vibe permeating through Snapdragon Stadium throughout the 2023 football season.
“I’m excited to be welcomed and embraced and to lead a tremendous program, a tremendous community that has a rich tradition going all the way back to Air Coryell and what he was able to do, how he revolutionized the game of football and how we throw the football today because of his influence and his impact on the game,” Lewis said in his opening statement. “I’m looking forward to bringing that excitement, that brand of football where we’re lighting up the scoreboard, where we’re playing fast, where we’re being balanced. There is a brand and an energy to what we bring day in and day out when our community and our university and our team think of Aztec football.”
While head coach Brady Hoke spoke recently about it being “the right time” for his departure from SDSU, the shift in philosophy emanating from Lewis’ hire can piggyback on Hoke’s lasting words.
Wicker labeled the head football coach position at SDSU as “one of the top jobs in the country,” and one man, Lewis, stood above the rest of the great group of candidates interviewed for the position. Wicker was drawn to Lewis’ infectious energy which he says will not only help the football team but the entire athletic department.
De la Torre recalled Lewis sealing the deal in their conversation on Tuesday by discussing his value of not just being a football coach to the students but being transformative in their lives, something that spoke to her heart.
“We are here to transformalize our students,” de la Torre stated. “This is not a transactional activity; this is a commitment of the heart.”
Lewis thanked many former coaches, players, and family members, including shedding an emotional tear or two when speaking about Sarah, his high school sweetheart, and the journey they have been on and the new adventure they are about to take on.
One particular name, Dino Babers, a former Morse High football alum, gave Lewis his start in the coaching world.
“Many years ago, (he) saw something in a really young coach who didn’t know a whole heck of a lot, but he took a hold of me underneath his arm and stewarded me through this profession and gave me an opportunity,” Lewis remarked. “I wouldn’t be here without him.”
SDSU released a statement from Babers, stating that he believes a home run was hit with this hire.
“I’ve been around a lot of great coaches, and you take the things you like best from them,” Babers said in the released statement. “Sean (Lewis) is as good as they come. He strives to be as good as he can be. He is a player’s coach and will always do what’s right for the student-athlete. He has high standards and was raised in a military fashion. Sean will always do things the right way and put the kids first. He will do great things for San Diego State.”
Babers, most recently the head coach at Syracuse, was fired last week. There is speculation that Lewis may return the favor and hire Babers as his Offensive Coordinator at SDSU. When asked about any coaching staff positions today, Lewis deferred them to a later time, stating that he still needs to meet with the coaches on the current staff before making any final decisions.
Lewis met with the entire team on Wednesday morning and stressed his vision and philosophy to the players. Despite the new hire, five players from the roster have entered the transfer portal, including starting LG and two-time All-Conference selection Cade Bennett. As a grad transfer, Bennett was able to enter immediately instead of waiting until the portal window opens on December 4th.
According to a source, Bennett has received heavy interest from Power 5 schools already, but SDSU has reached out to him to persuade him to return. Bennett described Lewis as “impressive.”
While Lewis is widely known for his innovative offensive mind, his discussions with Wicker also included a plan and philosophy for continuing the defensive legacy of the Aztec way.
“While improving on the offensive side of the ball is a goal,” Wicker noted, “playing great defense, which the Aztecs have done over the last 15 years, is something Sean (Lewis) articulated well and understands that is a benchmark of what our program has been.”
Lewis pre-empted any questions from the media about the importance of defense in his remarks, as well as how playing complementary football in all phases is what leads to winning.
“Look at the past 15 years, with what Coach Hoke and Coach Long have built and at the peak ages of the dark side D,” he explained. “I challenged the young men this morning that we’re going to expect them to chase excellence in all phases of their life, in the classroom and in their athletic endeavors. And I expect us in the same breath if we expect that excellence in all three phases of them, I expect excellence in all three phases of our football program.”
Lewis’ contract is for five years. While Wicker was unsure about the exact dollar figures when asked by media following the press conference, he noted the base annual salary is about $1.7M. Wicker previously stated that he expected SDSU’s head coaching salary to be at or near the top of the Mountain West Conference, which clears $2.3M for two coaches, once the new coach was hired.
Wicker also noted the contract includes a buyout provision should schools “that don’t really have bottoms in their pockets” covet Lewis’ services down the road.
Lewis’ contract at Colorado as the offensive coordinator was reportedly a three-year deal for a total of $2.7M ($900,000 annually).
In five years, the hiring of Sean Lewis as the 19th head coach in SDSU history will ultimately be measured on wins and losses.
For one day at least, it can be measured by how the introduction of Lewis to Aztec Nation went. In this case, it was a home run.
Avid sports fan and historian of basketball, baseball, football and soccer. UC San Diego and San Diego State alumni living in America’s Finest City. Diverse team following across multiple sports leagues, but Aztecs come first in college athletics.