MARQUETTE - At the high school level, Doug Lewis Jr. was a winner, capturing Division I Wisconsin state boys basketball titles as a player at Milwaukee's Rufus King High School in 1984 and as an assistant coach at Milwaukee's Washington High School in 1993.
Lewis was a winner as well at the college level, advancing to the NCAA Division I tournament with Southwest Missouri State in 1988 and 1989, then leading Central State University to the NCAA Division II tourney as a head coach.
At Northern Michigan University, however, there were no championships or postseason tournament appearances and after three losing campaigns, the Wildcats announced Wednesday Lewis' contract would not be renewed for 2013-14.
Northern Michigan University head men’s basketball coach Doug Lewis, center, addresses his team during a timeout against Hillsdale on Dec. 6 at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. After three seasons, NMU announced Wednesday it would not renew Lewis’ contract. (Journal file photo by Matt Wellens)
"All of our programs are evaluated based on the goals and measurable benchmarks laid out in the department game plan," said Northern Michigan University first-year athletic director Forrest Karr.
"Ultimately I made a decision that I think the program has a better chance of being successful going forward if we make a change.
"As a department, we're responsible to live up to the expectations of a lot of people that have been here in the past and been successful. I just feel like in this program, we're not meeting those expectations."
Lewis came to NMU in 2010 after going 125-61 in seven seasons as head coach of the CSU Marauders, an independent NCAA Div. II university in Wilberforce, Ohio. Lewis' squads had five winning seasons with three campaigns that included 20-plus wins. He went 22-6 in his final season and led the team to the NCAA tournament.
With the Wildcats, however, Lewis finished 23-55 overall and 13-46 in the GLIAC, finishing last in the North Division every year.
The only difference between Northern and Central State is time, Lewis said. From 10 full scholarships to top-notch facilities, NMU had everything he needed to succeed, just not enough time.
"Scholarships, they have the max and they have the facilities, a beautiful practice facility," Lewis said. "It's like Division I where you play in an arena. Even though we don't practice in (the Berry Events Center), a lot of Division I (schools) do the same thing that we do. There are no excuses.
"It takes 4-5 years to change a program around. First thing you have to do is change the culture. Second thing you have to do is bring in talent. I thought we did both. We had a lot of injuries this year. We didn't win games."
After back-to-back 9-17 record in the first two seasons under Lewis, NMU finished 5-21 overall this season while fighting injuries just as much, if not more, than its GLIAC opponents.
The Wildcats played 11 players in their regular-season opener on Nov. 17 against Finlandia at the Berry Events Center - a 129-52 win - but by that time had already lost its top returning scorer in sophomore guard Haki Stampley before the season even began.
Redshirt freshman point guard Terry Nash only played four games before breaking a bone in his foot, leaving Lewis without a starting point guard and after only appearing in 11 games, junior transfer forward Michael Smith joined Nash and Stampley on the IR.
"The bottom line is it's not Xs and Os, but Jimmies and Joes," Lewis said. "We have Jimmies and Joes here, it's just that we couldn't get them on the floor, especially this year with injuries."
By Jan. 24 at Lake Superior State, NMU was only able to suit up six players in a 74-44 loss. In the season finale on March 2 at Michigan Tech, the 'Cats were up to a whopping eight bodies in a 72-48 loss with sophomore Kendall Jackson being the only NMU player to appear in all 26 games.
That loss to Tech, thought, was the 13th defeat in 14 games for NMU with the lone win during that stretch coming at home against the Huskies on Feb. 2, 59-55.
"I wouldn't have changed anything because I thought we were going in the right direction," Lewis said about his time in Marquette.
"It's disappointing that I worked my butt off with where the program was with the talent and the change in culture. We're way ahead of where we were when I first took over. So that's what's disappointing, putting all that hard work in and having it end like this."
Karr said the university will conduct a full national search to replace Lewis and that the university is not targeting any specific candidates.
Karr said he wants to move quickly, but deliberately in the search.
"This is the time of year basketball coaches move around," Karr said. "This is a great situation here."
The position will be posted for three to four weeks before a search committee narrows the list down. Karr and the committee will conduct video interviews over the Internet with candidates before bringing a select group of finalists to Marquette to meet the campus and community.
Karr said he hopes to tap some of the community's best basketball minds to help hire the next coach of NMU men's hoops.
"There are plenty of people in this community that know basketball better than I do," Karr said. "I want to make sure we have those people helping us identify the best possible basketball coach.
"If you get the best basketball minds or people in the community that know the most about basketball, if you get them in a room talking basketball with candidates, I think it will help sort out who the strongest candidates are."
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mattwellens.