POCATELLO — Marvin Lewis Jr. was the guest of honor Thursday night at Idaho State University, but he was riding on a tide of memories from 1981 when the ISU Bengal football team won the Division 1-AA National Championship in Wichita Falls, Texas.
After finishing his playing time as a linebacker for the ISU Bengals, Lewis became the team’s linebacker coach as a graduate assistant in 1981, a magic year under head coach Dave Kragthorpe. Ironically, Lewis is with the Bengals again — but it’s the Cincinnati Bengals as head coach. It’s a position he has held in the NFL for 10 years.
But it was an ex-ISU Bengal who raised a glass to toast his old coach at the banquet held at the Stephens Performing Arts Center that punctuated the night. Bill Snapp, of Blackfoot, raised his glass high and credited Lewis with giving him the guidance he needed to succeed on the football field and in life.
Lewis returned the compliment when he walked to the lectern to accept his ISU Alumni of the Year for 2012 from Idaho State University President Arthur Vailas.
“I still don’t know if I’ve seen a linebacker as good as Bill Snapp and I’ve coached some good ones,” Lewis said.
The ISU graduate, who earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Pocatello, wasn’t blowing smoke. As defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens, Lewis’ team won the Super Bowl in 2000 by holding the New York Giants to just seven points.
During his tenure as head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, Lewis was named the Associated Press 2009 NFL coach of the year. He is currently one of only three black head coaches in the National Football League out of 32, joining Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Leslie Frazier of the Minnesota Vikings.
When Lewis took to the microphone at Thursday’s banquet, he brought chuckles from a crowd that included coaches from the 1981 ISU Bengals, Kragthorpe and Jim Koetter when he shared the secret to success at the university.
“The first thing you have to do is get a wife,” he said, referring to his wife, Peggy, who he met at ISU while they were both students.
“It’s just great to be back here,” Lewis said. “It’s a special place.”
Lewis credited his experiences at ISU with shaping his future and giving him the tools and friendships he needed to succeed in life. He referred to fellow classmates and teammates as the “people I grew up with.”
A native of Pittsburgh, Pa., Lewis was a standout football player, wrestler and baseball player in high school. He came to ISU on an athletic scholarship and became a three-time All Big Sky Conference selection.
When he was not drafted by the NFL, he stayed in Pocatello to pursue his graduate degree and began a storied coaching career.
President Vailas thanked Lewis for always being a friend of ISU.
“On behalf of Idaho State and really the Bengal family, we’re happy to have you back here,” Vailas said. “It takes people to build a great university.”