Tony Levine was fired on Monday after three seasons and a 21-17 record, which included back-to-back bowl berths this season and in 2013.
Levine had been with the program since 2008, serving as the special teams coordinator before being named the interim head coach for the Cougars in 2011 Ticket City Bowl after Kevin Sumlin left to coach the Texas A&M Johnny Manziels.
Though highly respected by his players, Houston suffered some embarrassing losses under Levine's tenure, the first being a loss in the 2012 season opener to Texas State, who had just recently moved up from FCS, and another season opening loss this year to UTSA to open up TDECU Stadium, a loss which looks a whole lot worse in light of UTSA's struggles this season. A 72-42 loss to SMU a few years ago was mixed in as well.
Houston went for someone loyal to the program according the the Houston Chronicle, and the risk-averse move ended up costing the Cougars in both recruiting and in the overall won-loss record, though Levine was beloved by those who were around him (gosh, that sounds like a nice sentence for an obituary, not a coaching search article).
The job, however is not a dead-end job. This is a school that once competed for national championships (when they weren't on probation) under Bill Yeoman and Jack Pardee in the 1970's and 1980;s, produced a Heisman winner (Andrew Ware) and launched the head coaching careers of both Sumlin and Art Briles, who was responsible for rebuilding the program after it hit rock bottom in the early 2000's. The school is always tossed around as a potential expansion candidate for the Big 12 as well.
Houston is in the middle of one of the most fertile recruiting grounds in the country, and boasts one of the bigger population areas as well. The right coach can bring the program back to prominence and have the Cougars competing for the G5's major bowl berth in no time.
Since the firing, some interesting names have emerged for the Head Coach position, and the search has begun in earnest, as even the President of the University is looking to crowdsource some names. SMU made a splash with the Chad Morris hire, and subsequent hires of prominent Texas high school coaches like Claude Mathis. Will Houston follow suit with another big name?
Possible candidates include:
- Will Muschamp - Ummm.. wow. How's that for a hire? We think Muschamp enjoyed his time at Texas, though the Houston Cougar identity has long been about high-powered offense. Can Muschamp make the Cougars into a defense-first team? Also, would he really turn down the overtures of the SEC?
- David Gibbs - (current UH Defensive Coordinator)- Gibbs would certainly be the safe choice. He's a rising defensive coordinator who turned around the Cougar defensive unit into a top-15 defense. Would this hire be "raising the bar" in the minds of Houston fans?
- Tom Herman - (Ohio State Offensive Coordinator)- His name has popped up in a lot of coaching searches this year. He's young (39), has recruiting ties to Texas (stops at FCS power Sam Houston State, Texas State and Rice) and is the 2014 Broyles Award winner, an award given to the top assistant coach in the country. His problem is the same one that Gibbs and Levine had though, he has no head coaching experience.
- Doug Meacham - (TCU offensive coordinator) Like the two preceding him, Meacham has no head coaching experience. He spent what was rumored as one tumultuous year in Houston, and has helped turn the TCU offensive attack into a national spectacle. Would he come back to Houston?
- Houston Nutt - Another former head coach who has seemingly interviewed for every single head coaching position out there. He would certainly shine a large light on the Cougar program in 2015, but would Houston take a chance on a guy that's been out of coaching for three years and doesn't have any ties to the Texas high schools?