GREENFIELD — It wasn’t something Michael Lewis was looking forward to doing. Meeting with his players on Wednesday morning, the Greenfield-Central boys basketball coach admits, it was the hardest message he’s ever had to deliver in his career.
After three seasons leading the Cougars, Lewis, 33, was moving on, officially approved as the new boys basketball head coach at Western High School by the school board, the same day.
“It was rough. Obviously, it’s a conversation you never want to have,” Lewis remarked on his final address. “When you invest so much into kids’ lives, and not just as basketball players, for three years, and then knowing that role is going to change, it’s never easy. I freaking love those kids.”
The same can be said for Lewis, who helped turn the Greenfield-Central program around after a stretch of 10 losing seasons prior to his first year in 2014.
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In his first season, the Cougars finished 10-15 before tying the program’s single-season wins record at 20-5 in 2015-16. In his final year, Greenfield-Central went 12-13 with several young up-and-coming players in the lineup.
The last two postseasons Greenfield-Central reached the sectional semifinals, and this past February the Cougars shocked heavily-favored Pendleton Heights in the first round of the New Castle Sectional with a 64-57 double-overtime victory.
In three years at Greenfield-Central, Lewis amassed a 42-33 record and his team’s averaged more than 50 points per game.
“The kids put a lot into that program, too, and that’s why they were successful. They weren’t successful because of me. They were successful because of their work ethic and their attitude and how they approached success,” Lewis commented on his team’s consistency. “I know that’s going to carry them into the future as well.”
Lewis’ decision to pursue the opening at Western after the resignation of Bart Miller in March was centered around family, he said. His previous relationship with Western athletic director Josh Larsh was also a factor.
As a youth, Lewis played at Bedford North Lawrence, winning sectional and regional titles in 2001. He graduated from Indiana University and began coaching at Delphi as an assistant for three seasons where he met Larsh.
He became the head coach for the Oracles in 2010, posting a winning record in his first season at 15-6, garnering the respect of his peers and onlookers. Lewis’s team had three winning campaigns in four years, highlighted by a 19-6 and sectional championship run in 2012-13.
Delphi competed in the Hoosier Conference during his tenure with the Oracles, and he became familiar with the Western program, scouting the Panthers routinely.
“(Western) is somewhere I’ve always had my eye on and somewhere that’s been super successful in the past and I know can be super successful in the future,” Lewis said. “It checks a lot of boxes for us as a family. It was 100 percent what’s best for family. It’s 25 minutes from family.”
Lewis’ wife is originally from the Delphi area, which led to his decision. However, the former Cougars coach says Greenfield will always remain a place he calls home. Lewis submitted is formal resignation on Thursday.
“It’s bittersweet because one chapter is closing with everything that we accomplished at Greenfield, but I’m excited for the new challenge at Western,” he said. “I think they have a group of kids that are very hungry. They have a school culture that’s committed to excellence. I think it’s a great opportunity for my family.”
Lewis owns a 99-66 career coaching record in seven seasons. Western is coming off consecutive 4-19 seasons after a span of seven straight winning campaigns, including two sectional titles in 2011 and 2012.
Greenfield-Central returns 6-foot-6 wing Will O’Connor who had a breakout campaign in his junior season. O’Connor led the Cougars with 381 points, which was third-best in the county.
He averaged 15.3 points per game was elected to the All-Hoosier Heritage Conference first team and received All-State honorable mention honors from the IBCA.
“The one thing we charge all of the coaches we hire is to leave the place better than you found it. There’s no doubt that he’s done that,” Greenfield-Central athletic director Jared Manning said. “Josh Johnson did the same thing before Michael, and then Michael took off from there and has really built our high school program and feeder program in a positive direction.
“Obviously, we owe him a lot and are very thankful for the three years that we were fortunate enough to have him.”
Lewis will serve as both Western’s head basketball coach and will teach in the high school’s math department.