Tommy Lewis has a real simple philosophy about philosophy about winning in high school basketball. Area championships matter.
“I always told people, you’ve got to learn how to win close to your house first,” Lewis said.
Lewis — who has won 602 games and 22 area titles over 31 seasons at Gaylesville, Spring Garden, Cherokee County and Piedmont — has resigned at Piedmont. The Piedmont Board of Education approved his resignation Wednesday.
The 57-year-old Lewis stopped short of calling it retirement, saying his possible return to coaching is “50-50.” He said he’s starting to repeat his stories at Piedmont, and he hopes that his stepping aside creates opportunities for long-time assistants Jonathan Odam (17 years) and Matt Glover (12 years).
“It’s been a great experience, and plus, Coach Odam’s son (Alex) is coming on,” Lewis said. “Coach Odam has been helping me for so long, and it’s time he got a chance.
“JoJo works there, and his wife works there, and he’s got two sons in the system. Matt works there, and he’s got a wife. For them to find a job, it’s going to take a whole lot of picking up and moving. For me, it’s not.”
Lewis’ resume speaks volumes.
His career record stands at 602-342. Records from the mid-1900s can be sketchy, but he’s believed to be one of only 25 coaches in the history of Alabama high school boys basketball to reach the 600-win mark. He recorded his 600th on Feb. 9, against Glencoe.
Lewis’ teams have won at least one area title at each of the four schools where he coached. He’s taken 15 teams to regionals tournament with five advancing to the state tournament — Spring Garden in 1989, Cherokee County in 2006 and Piedmont in 2010, 2011, and 2015.
Lewis coached 12 seasons at Piedmont, winning nine area titles and reaching the Northeast Regional nine times. The 2015 team finished as Class 3A runner-up.
His 226 wins at Piedmont mark the most in the school’s near-100-year history.
“When you come into our gym, we try to have banners that reflect the success of all of our athletic teams, male and female,” said Steve Smith, Piedmont’s football coach and athletics director, who lured Lewis to the school. “You look at our boys basketball banner, and it’s just littered with a ton of success over the last 12 years.”
Piedmont hired Smith in 2006, and Lewis was among his first hiring targets. At the time, Lewis was coaching Cherokee County’s Final Four team.
“There weren’t a lot of people that even wanted to talk to me about the job,” said Smith, who came to Piedmont from Cedar Bluff, also in Cherokee County. “He was somebody that I kind of zeroed in. I was just thinking maybe a shot in the dark, because he’d done so well there.”
Smith lauded Lewis as “a team player,” always understanding of the school’s frequent deep playoff runs in football and the late starts several multisport players get in basketball.
Lewis saved one of his best coaching jobs at Piedmont for last. His final Piedmont team had five new starters and six new players among the top seven yet finished 21-12, reaching the Northeast Regional final before losing to eventual state champion Plainview.
“Having some sort of either loss or altered version of your top seven players in your rotation from last year and getting to the ‘Elite Eight’ again, it speaks wonders to his ability to be able to adapt, to play with the hand that he’s dealt and get the most out of the guys,” Smith said.
Part of the reason Lewis came back for this past season was because he didn’t want to leave his potential replacement with a young team.
“When we were looking at the schedule, Coach Glover and I, and we were having a tough time finding eight or 10 wins,” Lewis said. “That was if we caught some breaks.
“As far as expectations, this may be the team that exceeded what we thought they’d do, farther than any team we’ve had.”