When Larry Lewis first got wind of Virginia filling its special teams coordinator/running backs coach vacancy, he was ecstatic.
Lewis had the recently hired man on the other end of his cell phone and he couldn’t hide his emotion.
“Great!,” Lewis told Jeff Banks. “Man, what an opportunity!”
Little did Lewis know that job was about to be his.
As the story goes, Banks officially became one of four new UVa staff members on Jan. 1. By Jan. 10, he was gone, off to Texas A&M to fill a similar position under Aggie head coach Kevin Sumlin.
Mike London was in a bit of a rut. The Cavalier head coach had just lost a proven assistant who he thought had high potential to help a glaring weakness on his team.
“Jeff Banks came highly recommended,” London said of the former Washington State punter who was coming off a successful nine-year run at UTEP. “[I] flew in and interviewed him. [He] did a great job on the interview, has a style of special teams play that I was very interested in because we talked about being tough and aggressive.”
So where would London turn? It turns out not that far.
Shortly after the Banks departure, London sought out Lewis.
Here was an accomplished 55-year-old with over 32 years in the business, including four separate stints in charge of special teams.
Lewis was the veteran Jeff Banks – in several aspects. He was hired on Jan. 12.
“Jeff had to learn his schemes and systems from somebody,” London said. “And we’re very fortunate that the guy that taught him those schemes and systems is Larry Lewis. … It was talked about or released that, although we lost the pupil, we gained the teacher.”
The Lewis-Banks connection started at Washington State where Lewis aided Banks’ journey from junior college standout to the Pac-10’s top punter in 1997.
They rejoined forces in 2001 when Banks came to join Lewis’ staff at Idaho State. That ended in 2003 when Banks left for UTEP, but the relationship never did.
Their recent discussions included one main topic – a certain job at UVa.
Before London got the serious negotiations going, Lewis was properly informed by Banks.
“He was like, ‘Lew, here’s what it’s all about,’” Lewis said.
Lewis was sold.
Beyond Washington State and Idaho State, Lewis has also tried his coaching hand at Weber State, Colorado State and, most recently, Nevada.
So why a career-move east to Virginia?
“It was really the tradition and the history at the University of Virginia,” Lewis said. “It intrigues me. The ACC intrigues me. To be able to coach in those venues right now, it really just expands my experience.
“Right now in my career, I really felt that I needed a shot in the arm and I think this is it."
UVa, undoubtedly, needed its own shot in the arm in the special teams department.
In 2012, the Wahoos were last in the ACC in punt return average and kick return coverage. Losses to Louisiana Tech and Maryland came with especially brutal special teams performances.
Lewis has the résumé to give hope to a turnaround.
His Wolf Pack led the Mountain West Conference in punt return average last season. In 2008 at Colorado State, he had the best punter in the Mountain West. In 2011, his Rams ranked in the top 25 in the nation in punting and kick return.
“I think it's really important,” Lewis said. “I think it's important for the kids to think that, 'Hey, we think this part of the game's so important that we're bringing in a guy that this is what he does. This is what he believes in.'
“It's like hiring a quarterbacks coach to me. And that's how I want the kids to look at it also. This is a critical part of what we do on the field on Saturday. It's all about building that culture with the kids. It really is."
Lewis has a specific strategy that he laid out for media members during last Friday’s meeting at John Paul Jones Arena.
It’s likely that London heard a similar plan from Banks just weeks before.
The two won’t ever lose their connection.
"It starts by putting your offense and your defense in a position to score,” Lewis said. “You either score yourself or you put the offense and defense in a great position. To me, that's a win. That's being aggressive.
“It's about changing the momentum of the game on one play. That could be running a fake, but it might be a big run. It might be a blocked punt. Shoot, it could be downing the ball inside the 2. I think all those things play a factor in it.”