Former University of Houston head coach Tony Levine took the 2015 season off after being fired from coaching the Cougars. The Texas State and UTSA coaching jobs are both currently open and here’s why I think Levine would a good candidate at both openings. I’m going to give a detailed (and hopefully objective) analysis of his tenure at Houston for context.
Recapping Levine’s Tenure at Houston
After Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin was hired to coach the Texas A&M Aggies, special teams coach Tony Levine was named interim coach for Houston’s bowl game against the Penn State Nittany Lions. The Coogs won 30-14 and Levine shortly after was given the full title of head coach on Cullen Boulevard.
Levine’s three year tenure started off in 2012 with a terrible 30-13 loss to Texas State which was playing in their first game as a member of the FBS. Instead of hiring and up-and-coming assistant from the Big 12 to run his offense like Kevin Sumlin (with Dana Holgorsen and Kliff Kingsbury, respectively), Levine’s first offensive coordinator Mike Nesbitt was making the jump from offensive coordinator at Division II’s West Texas A&M to the same position at FCS member Stephen F. Austin to Houston’s coordinator in two years. It failed spectacularly.
Nesbitt either resigned or was forced out after being embarrassed during the loss to the Bobcats. Running backs coach Travis Bush was soon promoted to offensive coordinator for the rest of the season.
Levine’s first season would end up a disappointing 5-7 as the Coogs’ roster was depleted with a plethora of graduations after the 2011 season, the largest being the graduation of legendary quarterback Case Keenum.
For the 2013 season Coach Levine changed both coordinators, bringing in Doug Meacham from Oklahoma State to revamp the stagnant offense and David Gibbs, a longtime assistant both in college and the NFL, to help the Coogs build a stingy defense for the first time in a generation.
The changes to both coordinator roles and some solid recruiting got the Coogs off to a hot 5-0 start and a respectable 8-5 finish. The Cougars offense received excellent play from true freshman quarterback John O’Korn. The Cougars lost the BBVA Compass Bowl against Vanderbilt but proved they could compete in their first season in the American Athletic Conference and things seemed bright for 2014.
In the offseason the Coogs took a huge hit when offensive coordinator Meacham left to be co-offensive coordinator at TCU. Levine replaced Meacham with Travis Bush which would later turn out to be a huge mistake.
The 2014 season opened in the brand new 40,000 seat TDECU Stadium as the Cougars hosted the UTSA Roadrunners. The lack of experience of the offensive coaching staff was apparent as the Coogs were embarrassed 27-7 in that first game. Another embarrassing loss later in the season to Tulane on homecoming likely helped seal Levine’s fate.
Good news is David Gibbs was able to build a stout defense which led the NCAA in turnover margin and dubbed the new unit the “Third Ward Defense” and the secondary “The Jack Boyz” for their penchant for stealing the ball from opponents. Houston had been lacking any semblance of a competent defense during the Briles and Sumlin eras and Levine was smart for recognizing the Cougars needed to be tougher defensively if the team was ever going to compete (and win) championship games.
I believe Levine made a huge mistake bringing Travis Bush back as offensive coordinator to replace Meacham. Bush was seemingly in over his head and O’Korn hit a sophomore slump he couldn’t recover from. The Cougars offense fizzled and O’Korn was eventually pulled for Greg Ward Jr. who had been on wide receiver and punt return duty. Ward Jr. showed flashes of brilliance in the second half of the season but it seemed more to be in spite of the coaching staff than because of it.
The collapse of the offense in 2014 combined with three bad losses in three years, two in 2014 alone, and also combined with no signature wins or upsets likely led to the Cougars moving on from Coach Levine after the 2014 season. While his on the field record was 21-17, the expectations for the Houston program were much higher during the Levine era, especially with the potential for Houston to gain membership in a Power 5 Conference in the near future and with the opening of the new stadium.
Coach Levine did bring in a lot of good recruits to Houston after Sumlin left the cupboard bare. He also was smart to realize that Houston needed to be able to have a power run game and a stout defense if it ever wants to compete for conference titles on a regular basis.
Even though Levine made a few bad hires on his coaching staff and had too many big losses with no big wins, I believe he’d be a good fit to be the head coach at either Texas State or UTSA (ironically, two teams he lost to) because he can still recruit well. I’d venture to guess that he’s learned from his mistakes at Houston and could do well at either of those young programs which are looking for success, so long as he can hire good coordinators.