Football enters a new era with new head coach, Sean Lewis

This is the second head coach stint in Lewis’ career
Image courtesy of San Diego State Athletics.
Image courtesy of San Diego State Athletics.

Sean Lewis enters his first season as San Diego State’s new head football coach following the retirement of Brady Hoke. 

In Hoke’s last season, the team went 4-8 overall and 2-6 in the Mountain West Conference standings. 

During Hoke’s second tenure as head coach, he went 4-4 in 2020, 12-2 in 2021 and 7-6 in 2022. Because of their losing record in 2023, the team failed to make a bowl appearance at the end of the season.

Following the disappointing season, it seemed the team was ready for a change. 

Lewis is coming from the University of Colorado, Boulder where he spent the 2023 season as the team’s offensive coordinator under head coach Deion Sanders. Before this one-year stint, he was also the head coach for the Kent State football program.

He was Kent State’s head coach from 2018 to 2022. During his time there, he accumulated a record of 24-31 and made two bowl appearances, winning the 2019 Frisco Bowl against Utah State. 

Lewis is credited with completely turning around the Kent State program. Before his arrival, the team didn’t have a winning record since 2012. In his first season in 2018, the team went 2-10. However, the very next season Kent State would finish 7-6 and win the Frisco Bowl that year.

Lewis would have one more losing season with Kent State in 2022 with a 5-7 record before moving on to Boulder in 2023. Because of his past success with the Kent State program, Lewis could replicate his success of turning around a school’s football team.

Mike Schmidt is SDSU’s run game coordinator and offensive line coach, returning to the Aztecs after a couple of years away. His first tenure at SDSU was from 2009-2020. He was then at Syracuse for two years as a run game coordinator and spent one season at Mississippi State as a run game coordinator thereafter.

Schmidt returns to SDSU for the 2024 season. He stated that having the urge to come back home was a significant reason to return, but also cited that working for coach Lewis was the biggest reason for his return. 

“The big reason I came home was not only to get back home where I’m comfortable but to work for coach Lewis,” Schmidt said. “I had to get around an offensive guy and I got around one of the most talented offensive guys (Lewis) in the country.”

While Lewis may be able to provide the spark that the Aztecs need, it might take time for the team to complete their transition. 

In SDSU’s recent history, first-year head coaches seem to struggle right out the gate before eventually turning around the program. In Brady Hoke’s first tenure as head coach in 2009, he accumulated a record of 4-8. Prior to him, Chuck Long had a record of 3-9, Tom Craft 4-9 and so on.

The only exception to this pattern was former head coach Rocky Long. He coached the Aztecs from 2011-2019 and posted a record of 8-5 in his first season.

In Long’s tenure he posted a 81-38 record and made a bowl appearance in every season he coached. With the hiring of Lewis, the program is hoping that he can bring back the same success and change the team’s culture as a whole.

However, change doesn’t happen overnight and it might take some time for Lewis to completely turn the team around. 

Shayan Nooriesfandiari, team equipment manager, said culture change can take time with a new coach.

However, Nooriesfandiari has liked what he’s seen out of Lewis so far and feels confident that a culture change is imminent.

“When you talk about culture change, I think it takes time,” Nooriesfandiari said. “We won’t see it right from the get-go, but I believe in time I think there will be a culture change, definitely.”

Another aspect to consider is how the players are handling the new hire. 

From a player’s perspective, a change in leadership can have a major impact on their game. They may have become so accustomed to a certain style of coaching that any changing of the guard might affect their performance. 

During a transition like this, it would be understandable if players had to take time to adjust. However, the high-energy spring practices have shown early signs that the team is ready to embrace Lewis’ coaching style. 

SDSU running back Kenan Christon talked about his perspective on the transition of head coaches.

“Obviously, it’s different,” Christon said. “You know it’s always hard having to transition between a coach you had for two or three years and whatever bond you build with him. But it’s an exciting opportunity to be able to be with coach Lewis.”

The high-energy practices, the support of the coaching and the excitement of one of the team’s best players are a good sign that Lewis is the right man for the job.

It may take some time for the team to become a winning program again, but it seems Lewis has put the Aztecs on an upward trajectory toward success.