Tony Levine Set the Table for Cougar Success

The news came down the pipe this week that Tony Levine was stepping away from coaching to focus on opportunities outside of football and spend more time with his family. Levine spent last season coaching special teams at Purdue. He's widely thought of as one of the best special teams coaches in football. It surprised some when Houston named Levine head coach after Kevin Sumlin departed for Texas A&M. Levine's run at Houston might not have set the world on fire, but in a lot of ways, Levine left the Cougars in a better place than he found them. 

You heard a lot about Tom Herman, with the kisses, the grill, marketing, and while Levine didn't have the media savvy of Tom Herman, Levine is a keen talent evaluator. Chances are Tom Herman isn't coaching in Austin were it not for Levine's ability to identify and recruit exceptional talent. Levine finished his time at Houston with a 21-17 record and bowl bids in two of his three seasons. That wasn't enough to keep his job, but Houston is better for his time in 3rd Ward. 

In his first recruiting class at Houston, he found Elandon Roberts, a no-star, local product out of Port Arthur who developed into a sixth-round pick and consistent contributor for the New England Patriots. Houston was the only school to offer one of Roberts' Houston teammates, William Jackson, an undersized athlete out of Houston Wheatley. After a stellar collegiate career, the Bengals took Jackson in the first round of the 2016 draft. 

Adrian McDonald and Trevon Stewart, also in that 2012 class, went on to form one of the most talented safety duos in college football. McDonald left as Houston's career interception leader, and Stewart recovered the most fumbles in school history. Levine helped convince Deontay Greenberry to become Houston's first 5-star recruit, and the Fresno native led the Cougars in receiving as a sophomore and junior. 

A year later Levine uncovered another in a long line of great Houston quarterbacks, Greg Ward Jr. Ward ended his Houston career with over 8,000 passing and 2,300 rushing yards. He's playing for the Philadelphia Eagles. He threw a lot of those yards to Demarcus Ayers. Levine beat out Arizona State, Washington State, Wake Forest, and West Virginia for Ayers' services. Ayers is now with the Steelers after two All-AAC seasons.

While Gary Patterson gets credit for his vision to convert high school running backs into college defensive ends, Levine had the knack too. Tyler McCloskey went from two-star high school linebacker to fullback under Levine, eventually becoming one of Houston's best red-zone threats at H-back. D'Juan Hines was a high school quarterback at Dekaney before moving to linebacker and blossoming into one of Houston's best defenders as a senior. Hines' Dekaney teammate, Linell Bonner didn't have a single offer coming out of high school but turned into one of the best possession receivers in the FBS. Tyus Bowser grew up from an undersized defensive end to a second-round draft pick and linebacker for the Ravens.

Levine's last class as head coach at Houston looks chock full of NFL talent with players like Matthew Adams, Khalil Williams, Garrett Davis, and Steven Dunbar. Two-star corner Howard Wilson went on to the league with the Cleveland Browns. 

On another note, coaching is a hard business, with hours at the office and days turning into weeks on the recruiting trail. Most coaches will, by omission, neglect their family. It's part of the job, and if you don't grind, you won't last. Kudos to coach Levine for deciding to put his family first. 

Maybe someday Levine will get the credit he deserves for his time at Houston. Tom Herman might owe him at least a thank you note. 

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