This weekend the upstart Alliance of American Football kicks off its inaugural season under the direction of TV and film producer Charlie Ebersol and Hall of Famer Bill Polian. The eight-team league has a host of names in the coaching and managerial ranks with NFL connections. Bills CB Ryan Lewis has two of them.
Buffalo’s cornerback, who just completed his first season with the Bills in 2018, has a father and an uncle playing important roles in the new football league.
Lewis’ father, Will Lewis is the general manager of the Memphis Express. After a 10-year playing career that spanned the NFL, USFL and NFL, Lewis coached for four years before getting into scouting and personnel with the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks.
He rose all the way to Vice President of Football Operations with the Seahawks before most recently serving as Director of Pro Scouting for the Kansas City Chiefs (2013-2017).
The opportunity to be a general manager however, was something that never came his way until now.
First and foremost, you’re appreciative of an opportunity,” said Will Lewis. “You always look for the opportunity to put together a team just to show that you could put together a team in this business because that’s what it’s all about. For me the most exciting thing is going through all the players, weeding out some and identifying others and putting your stamp on what you’re looking for in a player and the chemistry you’re looking for from one guy to another and fitting them to the scheme you’re going to run.”
Despite the fact that the AAF was an upstart league, Lewis liked the group of men spearheading the effort to build this new league into something sustainable for the long term.
“There are a bunch of people involved with this league, with (Bill) Polian and Tony Softli and Bill Kuharich. Just a bunch of football guys. Phil Savage, Randy Mueller. All the coaches that are in the league. Guys who were ex-GMs in the NFL and guys who were ex-coaches in the NFL, so it’s exciting to be part of that group.”
Among that group is Lewis’ own brother, and Ryan’s uncle, Tim Lewis. The former Green Bay Packers cornerback (1983-86) and Pittsburgh Steelers (2000-03) and New York Giants (2004-06) defensive coordinator is the head coach of the Birmingham Iron.
After his playing career was cut short by a neck injury, Tim Lewis got into coaching, embarking on a career that has now covered more than 30 seasons.
Though the two brothers had been adversaries during their NFL days, there was only one instance in that stretch of time that Tim was able to work alongside his brother Will. In 2009, while Will was serving as the Seahawks Director of Pro Personnel, Tim was hired as defensive backs coach under then head coach Jim Mora Jr.
Now both in the Eastern Conference in the AAF, Tim and Will Lewis will see their teams square off twice in each season.
“Yes, he’s four years older than me so we really never matched up against one another,” said Tim Lewis. “The only time we really matched up was when I was coaching in the NFL and whichever team I was with, he spent some time in the NFL with Atlanta and Green Bay and Seattle. So more from a coach and administrator standpoint than toe to toe combats.”
“Somehow I see that being a natural rivalry even though neither one of us will step on the field,” said Will Lewis. “It’s that whole thought of not wanting to lose to your brother. When this thing first started we thought it’d be pretty cool if we were on the same team and could put it together ourselves, but that didn’t happen. So this is the next best thing being able to beat him. I definitely don’t want to lose to him and we’ll play those guys twice because they’re in our division.”
The first meeting comes this Sunday in Birmingham for a 4 pm kickoff. The Iron have a pair of former Bills on their roster in punter Colton Schmidt and WR Quan Bray, who was on Buffalo’s offseason roster last year.
But for Ryan Lewis, while he’s preparing for his second season in Buffalo, he’ll be keeping a close eye on the AAF knowing the chance it’s provided to both his dad and his uncle.
“It’s a good experience for my dad in his first general manager role and my uncle who is in his first head coaching job. I think it’s going to be great for them,” said Ryan Lewis. “Hopefully they get a lot of experience from that and have a lot of success and maybe one day take their talents to the NFL if they get an opportunity. I know my dad’s dream job is to be a GM for an NFL team. I have confidence that he’ll get there.”