MIAMI – Greg Lewis said he harbors no ill will toward Doug Pederson over his one-and-done firing as the Eagles’ wide receivers coach following the 2016 season.
“My group just didn’t perform well enough,’’ said Lewis, who has spent the last three years coaching the Kansas City Chiefs’ wideouts for Andy Reid. “As a position coach, it falls on you. As you’ve seen there, if they don’t perform, the coach is responsible for that. I understand.’’
Any day now, Pederson will announce the hiring of his fifth wide receivers coach in as many years after firing Carson Walch last month. Walch was preceded by Gunter Brewer (2018), who was preceded by Mike Groh (2017), who was preceded by Lewis.
“I talk to Doug all the time,’’ Lewis said as the Chiefs prepared for Sunday’s showdown with the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV. “We’re good. A lot of the coaches that were there [in 2016], I talk to them. There’s no hard feelings.
“This is a business. Your job is to prepare your guys to get ready and go out and perform. Obviously, they didn’t do well enough when I was there. It wasn’t from lack of trying by them or lack of effort by me in putting in the time. It just didn’t happen. That’s sports.’’
Lewis is in charge of the Chiefs’ “Legion of Zoom,’’ a talented, speed-laced unit that includes Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, and rookie Mecole Hardman. The Chiefs’ wideouts combined for 2,690 receiving yards and 21 touchdown catches this season. They averaged a collective 14.9 yards per catch.
“It’s fun to coach this group, not because of the talent that they have, but because of their personalities off the field, and how much they care about each other, and how much they care about winning and being great at what they do,’’ Lewis said.
Lewis’s receiving corps with the Eagles four years ago wasn’t in the same league with the group he’s coaching now. It included Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor before the light went on, the mystifyingly bad Dorial Green-Beckham, Josh Huff, Paul Turner, and Bryce Treggs. That group combined for just 1,839 receiving yards, eight touchdowns, and a meager 10.8 yards-per-catch average.
Green-Beckham, Huff and Turner never played in the league again after that season. Treggs hung on long enough to catch five passes for the Browns in ‘17.
Agholor finally put together solid seasons in 2017 and ’18, but missed five games this season with a knee injury and caught only 39 passes. He’ll be a free agent in March and isn’t expected to be re-signed.
Matthews, who injured a knee during the ’16 season, has caught just 53 passes in the last three seasons. Released after catching four passes in two games with the Eagles this season, he signed with the Niners in early December and appeared in one game.
“It was a good group of guys,’’ Lewis said. “It just didn’t work out for us. It was unfortunate. It just didn’t happen for us. It didn’t come together like we wanted to.’’
As for Lewis, things have gone swimmingly for him since the Eagles fired him. Reid’s longtime wide receivers coach, David Culley, who had been with him since he took the Eagles’ head-coaching job in 1999, wanted to spread his wings and left after the 2016 season to become Sean McDermott’s quarterbacks coach in Buffalo.
Lewis, who played six seasons for Reid with the Eagles, replaced Culley in Kansas City.
“Coach Reid’s been there since I’ve been in the league,’’ said Lewis, who will turn 40 on Feb. 12. “He knows me and he knows what I’m about. I thought it would be a good fit and he felt the same way. It’s been a great opportunity. He gives you the leeway to go coach guys and help them improve and help the team get better.’’
Lewis’s first coaching gig was with Reid. He worked as a coaching intern with the Eagles during their 2012 rookie minicamp.
He had three one-year college coaching gigs after that at the University of San Diego (2012), San Jose State (2013), and Pitt (2014), then took a job as an offensive assistant with the New Orleans Saints (2015) before joining Pederson’s first Eagles staff.
“I’ve learned a lot from all of the coaches I’ve worked for,’’ he said. “There have been a lot of influences that have helped me grow as a coach. I wouldn’t be a good coach if I hadn’t grown at each stop I’ve been at.
“The big thing with coaching professional athletes is understanding your players and knowing who they are. All of them are good enough to be out here and doing things. But you have to know what makes them tick, and what gets to them, and how to push those buttons, and how not to push the buttons that might get them going in the other direction. It’s a mind game, but then it also comes down to all of the technique and work you put in with them. I’ve got a good group.’’
Lewis’s background as an NFL player has benefited him as a coach, just as it has Pederson. Players are quicker to listen to coaches who have walked in their shoes.
“That’s the best part,’’ Watkins said. “Greg played 7-8 years in this league. He caught some big passes, including a touchdown in the Super Bowl. So he knows what it takes.
“He’s helped my career tremendously. He’s really hard on all of us. I can go score a touchdown and he’ll look at me like I didn’t do anything. He’ll say, ‘Hey, man. That ain’t nothing. Go get yourself another one.’
“He knows what we go through. He knows when I’m tired or mad or angry. He knows sometimes when I walk into the building that I need to be left alone and don’t want to talk. He knows when to back away and leave you alone, and he knows when to get up in your grill. He’s a big reason why the wide receivers are so freaking good.’’
Lewis downplays the significance of his NFL playing experience because he doesn’t want to slight any coaches who don’t have a similar background.