Osia Lewis, a Tucson High School football standout from 1978-81 who later went on to star at Oregon State and coach for 30 years, passed away in his sleep last night. He was 57.
Devastated to hear about the passing of Tucson High great Osia Lewis. He was a tremendous friend, coach, and mentor. I’ll always cherish our talks and time spent together. Prayers go out to the entire Lewis family during this difficult time. Rest In Peace Coach 🙏 https://t.co/BYnD2nCvXW
Lewis, who was an assistant coach at Vanderbilt since 2016, was diagnosed with liver cancer four years ago. He was in remission and was in good shape, according to his brother Steve. The cause of death is unknown at this time.
“The pain is that he’s not here anymore,” Steve, an assistant coach at Mesa High School, said. “Knowing that he lived a full life as a coach, as a father, as a sibling and mentor to a lot of African American coaches around the country, you know like (San Diego State receivers coach) Hunkie Cooper told me earlier on the phone, they’ll tell you they owe everything to him being a coach.”
Lewis, whose first name is pronounced OH-see-ya, passed away in Nashville with his wife Darlene nearby. He has a son, Marvin, and daughter, Kiana.
Lewis was a three-sport star at Tucson High who played three positions in football with the Badgers — quarterback, defensive back and punter. Arizona and ASU backed off their recruitment of him but Oregon State continued to recruit him and he became an All–Pac-10 selection and honorable mention linebacker with the Beavers.
He went on to play in the Canadian Football League and Arena Football League before he got into coaching in 1989 with Western Oregon State. He had coaching stints with Oregon State, Illinois, New Mexico, UTEP, San Diego State and Vanderbilt. He also was a defensive coordinator for Hartford in the United Football League in 2010.
After he was diagnosed with cancer, Lewis stepped away from full-time coaching in 2017 and moved into a role as senior defensive assistant and special consultant to Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason. In 2016, Lewis joined Mason’s Vanderbilt staff as senior defensive assistant and outside linebackers coach.
“He was as healthy as you and I,” Steve Lewis said. “Last night when I talked to him, we were talking about the riots, the activity in L.A. and across the country. We normally have a Sunday morning conversation, so he said, ‘I’ll talk to you in the morning.’ He also said he was going to call my son to make sure he is okay with all that’s going on right now. He called him before he went to bed.
“Everything looked good last night. It’s just a shock, a shock to all of us.”
The Lewis family is historic in Tucson with Osia and Steve following the footsteps of older brother Marvin, who passed away in 1975 at 23 from complications following an automobile accident in which he broke his neck, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. Marvin was a Parade All-American on the 1970 Tucson High team that finished 12-0. He was a two-time All-City and All-State linebacker,
Steve said his brothers were significant mentors in his life.
“Whenever we would go to a coaches conventions, Osia was like the godfather of football,” Lewis said. “People would come up to him and say hello. He always made an imapct on me, just like he was with his players.
“All the players in the NFL and the ones that are in coaching, whenever there was an event in his hometown, Osia made sure they came by and he would cook dinner. The players made a point to make sure they checked on him. When he was diagnosed with cancer back in 2016, his phone rang off the hook. He was overwhelmed by players and coaches checking on him.”
Steve mentioned that Ricky and Lamonte Hunley called him this morning to offer their condolences.
He said that Osia was planning to retire in Tucson soon. Osia was one of the finalists for the TUSD athletic director position that opened when Herman House retired. Former Arizona player Dee-Dee Wheeler was appointed that position.
Steve reflected that Osia approached his life like he did in football.
“He was a straight-up savage who came to play,” he said. “He was just one of those players that knew how to bring it.”
Mesa will visit Tucson High on Oct. 11 and Steve said he will remember the good times with his brothers there.
“I’m looking forward to get back there,” Steve said. “We were from the westside, played in TYF and Western Little League. Tucson is a special place for our family.”
Funeral arrangements for Osia are pending.