The Berea College baseball program is looking to move forward under new leadership.
Athletic director Ryan Hess announced on Tuesday that Chris Lewis has been hired as the Mountaineers' new head coach.
Lewis spent the past three seasons as an assistant coach at Upper Iowa University, an NCAA Division II school. Prior to that, he served as the head coach at Dawson Community College.
"I would like to thank Director Hess and the search committee for giving me an opportunity to lead the Mountaineer baseball program," Lewis stated in a press release issued by the school. "During the interview process, I knew that Berea was the perfect place to call home for me and especially my family. The mission of Berea College fits into what I believe coaching is about. I also cannot wait to come back to the bluegrass and start rebuilding the Mountaineer baseball program."
Lewis faces a big challenge.
The Mountaineers did not field a team in 2020 after the administration abruptly canceled the program's season.
The decision appeared to be based on unspecified off-field conduct by members of the team. School officials released a statement, via e-mail, on Feb. 7, but did not comment further on the issue.
"The student-athletes who represent our intercollegiate programs are representatives of Berea College," the e-mail stated. "All student-athletes are expected to abide by team, departmental and College policies that are tied to the high values arising from Berea's mission and traditions. We are committed to assuring that all of our current and future students understand the role of athletics at Berea College so that they will represent themselves, their teams and the College in a manner consistent with Berea College's Great Commitments and the expectations of Berea's Student Athlete Code of Conduct."
In addition to the off-field issues, the Mountaineers haven't had much success on the field recently either.
Berea was 9-28 in 2019 and 5-29-1 in 2018.
Since joining the USA South Conference, which is NCAA Division III, the Mountaineers are 3-37 against league opponents.
Hess and the school's administrator, though, believe Lewis can turn things around.
"In our extensive search of the new head coach of the Berea College baseball program, the search committee was blown away with the experience coach Lewis has had in his career coaching all over the country," Hess stated in the release. "Coach Lewis has had extensive experience working with student-athletes, promoting a holistic coaching philosophy, which will enrich the experience of our student-athletes. We are excited to have coach Lewis and his family join our campus family and lead our baseball program into new heights."
At Upper Iowa, Lewis' responsibilities included overseeing all the hitters and position players. In his first year, the UIU offense showed tremendous progress, increasing production in 12 categories. In the shorted 2020 season, UIU's offense was on track to break the program individual and team home run records.
At Dawson Community College, Lewis had 25 of his players move onto the four-year level, including coaching seven Academic All-Americans, 21 of which were named to the Dean's List.
Lewis also coached back-to-back MonDak Conference Players of the Year and the 2017 team was named to the NJCAA Academic All-American Team. In 2018, Reynaldo Pichardo was drafted in the 33rd round by the Texas Rangers. In addition, the Buccaneers led by Coach Lewis was nationally ranked at the NJCAA Division II level for the first time in program history.
Lewis has worked with some of the most revered coaches in college baseball.
He spent 2009-2014 under Beauford Sanders at Campbellsville University. Sanders is currently No. 12 on the active list on winningest coaches in NAIA baseball.
Lewis also spent a year under head coach Brian Wade, who in the past decade has won more games than any other four-year collegiate program in the state of Iowa regardless of level.
Lewis has been coaching since 2000 and was an essential part of many winning and successful programs all throughout the country, including stops at Southwestern Oregon Community College, Sherwood High School, Salinas Valley Packers, Portland Titans, Lewis & Clark College, Portland Baseball Club, NW Star, and Bethany University (Scotts Valley, CA.), where he achieved the first 30-win season in school history.
"I am a blessed man," Lewis said. "I have had the opportunity to work for and with some great coaches in my career not to mention the countless players who have been a special part of my life. We are all who we are today in part to the people who have helped shape our lives. I have a wonderful wife, who is more than I deserve, two beautiful daughters and an opportunity to build a program. It is a great day to be a Mountaineer."