A trip to the allergy doctor ultimately led Marjorie Lewis down a path to becoming a college football coach. She has no coaching background and she’ll be a 60-year-old rookie this fall when Texas Wesleyan University launches its inaugural season.
As someone who covered Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboys for one major publication and the Herschel Walker trade for another, she was often immersed in football. She covered countless games from press boxes for America’s team. Now she’s back in the box, but this time wearing a headset.
The story begins when Marjorie Lewis went to Italy with her daughter last year. Upon their return, Lewis went to the doctor because she thought something small she ate lodged in her throat. Turns out it was an allergic reaction, so she visited an allergy doctor.
The nurse in the office noticed Marjorie’s Tulsa University football t-shirt, and said, “Oh, another woman who knows a lot about football.”
Well, it turns out that the nurse had a great aunt, Tylene Wilson, who became the head football coach of Daniel Baker College in Brownswood, Texas, during World War II when the men were off to fight.
“What she did was awesome and I fell in love with the story,” Lewis said.
Lewis wanted to make it her mission to write the true story of Tylene Wilson, who learned the game of football from her father and took over the program when all the men left.
The problem, though, was that the schools and libraries didn’t have enough information on the situation, so Lewis went the fictitious route and cast Coach Wilson as head coach of the Brownswood High School team. She penned the book titled “When the Men Were Gone.”
While searching for an agent for her book, Lewis came across a job listing for an assistant coach position for Texas Wesleyan University, and she applied. She got the job, filling a new dream inspired by World War II Coach Tylene Wilson.
Lewis joined the team this spring and, lo and behold, broke her finger the same day the first practice began.
“I didn’t tell any of the players because I didn’t want them to think I couldn’t make it out there,” she said. Lewis, who coaches linebackers and defensive backs, made it through practice throwing balls with one finger awkwardly pointed a different direction from the others.
“After practice I was on Cloud Nine, but I rushed to the hospital as quickly as I could,” Lewis said. “The next day I came to practice with a splint on my finger and told them what happened. Some of them said they wouldn’t have made it, or that women really are tougher than men.”
Despite utilizing just three fingers, she still threw passes to her defenders in practice that day.
She said the players have been more than receptive with her on the team, often chatting with her and each of them giving her a high five as they enter the weight room.
Lewis knows a lot about the game from her days of helping cover the team with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in the 1986-88 seasons — the final three seasons of coach Tom Landry. She got to know the legendary fedora-wearing coach very well.
“He was the first person who called me in the hospital when I had my first child,” she recalls. And when Landry died in February 2000, she was there with all of his former players.
She learned the X’s and O’s of the game and tendencies of teams from careful observation in several press boxes. So when Texas Wesleyan head coach Joe Prud’homme hired Lewis, he leaned on her wisdom from the sky.
“Joe Prud’homme told me they could use the extra eyes in the press box,” Lewis said. “So I’m utilizing my journalism skills.”
She watches alignments, formations and tendencies of the opponents during the games. In practice she helps run drills and, of course, throw balls at the defenders to sharpen their interceptions and tip drills.
She said she has two huge sports bucket lists to still accomplish: play football for her alma mater Arizona State University and play for the Chicago Cubs. She’s not sure if that’ll ever happen, and she never imagined a football coaching gig in a million years.
She left the newspaper business and got into education by teaching writing courses at Brookhaven College in the Dallas County Community College District. She landed at Richland College in the DCCCD and was a journalism teacher and adviser until 2007.
She left teaching to pursue writing projects, like the documentary she wrote on football legend Doak Walker.
“Two producers approached me about it and I told them I had no screen writing experience,” Lewis said. “They told me to us my journalistic instincts, so I did. Right now they’re trying to get it on ESPN’s ‘30 for 30’ or another network’s documentary series.
She’s since gone on to receive two master’s degrees and taught at Tulsa. She currently teaches three classes each semester at the University of North Texas and one class in the summer.
Lewis still finds time to coach, and certainly doesn’t do it for the money. “This is hard work and not everybody makes Nick Saban kind of money,” she said. “It’s really a labor of love for these coaches. I respect their knowledge and dedication. I had an idea of what they do, but what I see on a daily basis is truly amazing.”
Lewis now looks forward to bus rides upwards of 9-10 hours and exhausting recruiting trips.
“You don’t do this for monetary value, but for the love of the game,” she said. “My husband thinks I’m crazy for doing this and even questions if I’m sure I want to do it.”
“I definitely love doing this.”
Lewis has been married to her husband, Chuck, for 36 years. They have two grown daughters, Monica and Katy.
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