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Thursday, December 22, 2011
Houston stays in-house with hire

By Andrea Adelson

Let's be honest here for a minute. There are very few outside of Houston who have ever heard of Tony Levine.

He has never been a head coach before. He has never been a coordinator before. He has never been an opportunist screaming, "Hire me!" at the first available opportunity.

What he has been makes him the most qualified candidate to coach the Cougars.

Levine has been on the ground floor of the grand rebirth at Houston, and that trumps all the name recognition in the world. He joined the staff when former coach Kevin Sumlin did back in 2008, and helped turn this program from good to great. Under Sumlin, Houston has posted multiple 10-win seasons, produced its first bowl win in 24 years and played for two Conference USA championships.

This season, the Cougars won a school-record 12 games, and were on the verge of the first BCS berth in program history before losing to Southern Miss in the C-USA title game. Levine coached alongside Sumlin every step of the way, learning as he went along to understand everything it takes to run a program, how to earn the respect of players, to recruit, to build.

He knows what Houston is today and where Houston is going. This is a critically important hire because the Cougars are on the verge of even bigger opportunities. They join the Big East in 2013, and need a coach who can steer this program into the uncertainty surrounding such a big move. Because he has worked and learned under Sumlin the past four years, he is the perfect man to lead the charge.

While at Houston, he has coached special teams and receivers and seen prolific play from guys such as Patrick Edwards, Tyron Carrier and James Cleveland. His football bloodlines are good, too, as he served under Bobby Petrino at Louisville for three seasons. During that time, the Cardinals went 29-8, including an 11-1 record and a No. 6 national ranking in 2004.

This is the second year in a row that a Sumlin assistant has gotten an opportunity to become a head coach. Over at West Virginia, former Houston offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen went 9-3 in Year 1 and is headed to the Discover Orange Bowl. Though Holgorsen did much of his learning under Mike Leach, he and Sumlin are close -- and he credits Sumlin for allowing him to be even more innovative with his unique style of offense.

Holgorsen's hire has worked out well for the Mountaineers. Will this hire work for Houston? Hiring any coach requires a leap of faith. But Levine has plenty going for him, and an excellent base from which to start. When athletic director Mack Rhoades informed the football team late Wednesday night that Levine had been promoted to head coach, each player rose to give him a standing ovation.

Levine told the players Houston is a dream job, a destination. When his own children are asked where they are from, he wants them to proudly say, "Houston." Those words play well to his audience. And really, that is the biggest and best audience he needs to help him become a success.