An incredibly decent man lost his job when the University of Houston decided it wanted its swag back. Tony Levine is one of those rare people in big-time sports whose virtue and kindness just drip off him.
You're not going to find a better guy to guide a bunch of 18 to 24 year old kids than Tony Levine.
But professional sports — and if you don't think major college football qualifies as professional sports, you just haven't been paying attention — isn't really about building up fine young men, or making sure your players have good grades, or any of that malarkey that college presidents often give lip service to in interviews.
It's about winning and, more importantly, bringing attention to universities.
Mack Rhoades removed any doubt about what the University of Houston is striving for when he fired Levine. (As if the Kelvin Sampson hire wasn't confirmation enough.)
The Cougars are about being as big time in college sports as they can possibly be first, last and foremost. That's what matters. How do you move the needle?
Houston will pay an incredibly decent man $1 million to not coach the young men who love him. How crazy is that? Not very in the world of pro college sports.
This is where Levine failed most at UH. His decent but unremarkable 21-17 record isn't what really doomed him. Being a step above mediocre is one thing, but being boring and a step above mediocre is the killer.
And that's what Tony Levine brought to UH despite his honorable intentions: A flat-line boredom.
He didn't enrage anyone. How could you be upset with such a such a good guy? But he rarely inspired anyone either. Not the fans. Certainly not enough of the boosters (or he'd still have his job).
Levine just sort of kept running in place, never great, never terrible. And unfortunately, slowly but surely, UH became more and more irrelevant, getting talked about less and less in the city sports scene.
Levine's biggest fault certainly isn't one of character. It's that he allowed Houston to lose all its momentum after the Case Keenum era and, worse yet, contributed to the Cougars losing their very identity.
The University of Houston is a high-octane offense program with prolific quarterbacks spreading the field and racking up big chunks of yardage. The Coogs are fun and exciting to watch.
This is what thrust Houston onto the national stage back in the days Andre Ware ran John Jenkins' offense. And it's what UH must continue to be.
Houston needs to differentiate itself from all the other wannabes that litter the college football landscape. Art Briles and Kevin Sumlin did a fantastic job of that. Tony Levine coughed it away.
The minute a program like Houston becomes as boring on offense as a Nebraska, the cause is lost.
Trying to win with defense, special teams and a running game just doesn't work on Cullen Boulevard. It's not what UH is. The Cougars need to be throwing the ball around and piling up the points the way Baylor and TCU are.
If Levine had the same 21-17 record with an exciting offense, he'd still be the coach of Houston today. Perception matters more than ever in big-time sports these days.
Helicopter Swag Without the Copter
Kevin Sumlin brought swag long before he started buzzing around in that Swag Copter that Texas A&M gave him. Briles brings it too in his own homespun, glint in the eye, hidden edge way too. Both those coaches made it cool to play at Houston.
Tony Levine's made it . . . sort of ho hum.
This is why Rhoades allegedly flirted with Mike Leach, another offensive mad scientist who has never held a boring press conference in his life. Houston would probably be better off with another hot up and coming assistant, someone dying to prove himself and soon springboard to a better job like Briles and Sumlin did.
Houston needs to differentiate itself from all the other wannabes that litter the college football landscape. Briles and Sumlin did a fantastic job of that.
UH fans may despise the way Sumlin left, swinging a deal under the cover of darkness with a championship and an elite bowl game berth on line. But guys like him — and there are few coaches as good as Sumlin — lift an entire program before they leap on. Still the Leach murmur (no matter how quickly Washington State tried to shoot it down) shows Rhoades at least firmly understands the true offensive identity of Houston football.
Levine's best moment came in his first moment when he steadied a program reeling from Sumlin's abrupt bolt and let Case Keenum loose to rain haymakers down on Big Five Power Conference foe Penn State in that bowl game. His tenure never really recovered from that blowout loss to UTSA in the ballyhooed new stadium opener this season though.
That's the last time the Cougars truly had the eyes of Houston on them. The hyped summer night could have been a turning point. Instead, it turned into an embarrassment, a step back triggering more running in place.
So Tony Levine is saying his goodbyes as classy as ever, leaving behind memories of having always gone out of his way to represent UH at every function possible. An incredibly decent man's been kicked to the curb. There can be no joy in that.
Levine would be a fantastic head coach at a mid major that's more content with its place in the world, at a school that truly does place a high value on character building. He'd leave a lasting legacy of great young men produced — and a winning record — at a university like that.
But Houston's forever reaching, clawing for more, desperate for a bigger piece of the pie. UH yearns to be noticed, to be in the discussion above all. So it will pay an incredibly decent man $1 million (the size of Levine's buyout) to not coach the young men who love him. How crazy is that? Not very in the world of pro college sports.
Character only takes you so far. Who's got the swag?