Guy V. Lewis stories on his 99th birthday

Guy V. Lewis heading to halftime of a game in 1979 / The Houstonian


 
Coach Guy V. Lewis would have turned 99 today. The Hall of Fame coach that won 592 games and went to five Final Fours almost never went into coaching.

After starring on UH’s first two teams, Guy V. was offered a job on the UH staff by head coach Alden Pasche. But Lewis turned it down and headed home to Arp, Texas, to work his grandfather’s farm and open a small business.

“I hated every minute of it,” Lewis said about all the mornings of getting up at 4 a.m. to feed the cows.

In 1953, Pasche called to offer him the job again. This time, Guy V. was ready. “Hold it! I’ll be right there,” Lewis told Pasche. And he meant it, too.

“Before they even hung up, I was down there,” Lewis laughed years later. He served as an assistant for three seasons before taking over the top job in 1956. He’d stay at UH for another 30 years.

“Being a coach here is not just a job,” Lewis explained to a reporter in 1981. “For me, it’s kind of a crusade. I played on the first team here. I’ve seen this place grow. There were no permanent facilities when I came, only 3 buildings. Now we have 45,000 students.

“It’s been my whole adult life.”

from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram


 
Denny Bishop can testify to Guy’s dedication. In the early 1960s, Bishop was a point guard on the freshman team when he came down with a severe case of the mumps. He was quarantined in his dorm room and was still sick when the semester ended. In his condition, he was not allowed to return home to South Bend, Indiana.

Quietly, Coach Lewis and his wife Dena moved Bishop into their home, asking son Vern to give up his bedroom. Bishop credits the Lewis family for nursing him back to health.

“I stayed with them about three weeks until I was well enough to go home. It was a heckuva thing for them to do,” Bishop recalled in the mid-1980s.

“And you’ve got to remember,” Bishop laughed. “I was a slow 5-8 point guard. This was not Elvin Hayes we’re talking about.”

Guy V. Lewis drawing from the El Paso Times in 1983


 
Elvin Hayes has always praised Coach Lewis for putting his job on the line to recruit black athletes.

Before any other school even considered it, Guy V. quietly pushed UH to integrate athletics in the early 1960s. In 1965, he was given permission to recruit Don Chaney and Elvin Hayes out of Louisiana. “I do not know if the community was ready for it or not. But I was,” Lewis noted.

“The transition was smooth because we got not only two great players but two good people.”

“Guy put his job and everything else on the line when he recruited us,” Elvin admitted years later. “He actually played a very important role in the integration process throughout the entire city.”

Hayes believes that Lewis not only integrated his team but also worked to change hearts one at a time. While playing on the freshman team, Elvin faced an opposing junior college player that repeatedly used the n-word and other slurs toward him.

After the season, Coach Lewis brought Elvin into his office to tell him that the staff had an interest in recruiting that player. “But he told me, then and there, that if I said ‘no’ they wouldn’t touch him,” Elvin said. “(Coach Lewis) was that concerned about my feelings.”

The player agreed to visit UH. Lewis saw a way to impact the lives of both young men and asked Elvin Hayes to be his host. The player and Hayes connected in a way neither could imagine and that player agreed to sign with UH. Twenty years later, Elvin said that the two of them learned from each other and became close friends.

“It was a great step for us, too. (Don Chaney) and I were both from all-black situations and we had misconceptions about white people the same as some had about us,” Hayes observed. “Coach bridged a lot of gaps for us.

“The steps he took changed my life,” said Hayes. “Coach Lewis will always have a very special place in my heart.”