Monday, December 22, 2014

Goodbye Tony Levine, Hello Tom Herman

So why did the University of Houston fire head coach Tony Levine, who had an overall winning record, was coming off a consecutive winning seasons (the Cougar’s first since ‘08-‘09) and was set to take his team to a bowl game? The Houston Press’s John Royal explains:
Tony Levine was fired because his team lost 27-7 to UTSA in the very first game played in Houston's brand-new TDECU Stadium -- a game in which the Cougars were double-digit favorites. He was fired because his team lost to a then two-win Tulane team 31-24, a game that was UH's homecoming game and a game in which UH was, once again, a double-digit favorite.

Levine was fired because the team trailed SMU at the half (SMU won just one game this season) and because it barely defeated Tulsa, another game against a bad opponent in which the Cougars were heavy favorites. He was fired because his record as head coach was a mediocre 21-17 and the team appeared to be trending downwards.

The Cougars fired Levine because he insisted on making Travis Bush his offensive coordinator this season despite Bush having failed miserably at this job during the 2012 season. He was fired because QB John O'Korn, who was the AAC's offensive rookie of the year in 2013, turned into the second coming of Matt Schaub this season. Levine was fired by UH because the Cougars let SMU score 72 points in 2012 and because the team lost 30-13 to Texas State in the very first game played by that school on the FBS level.
You can add last January’s BBVA Compass Bowl blowout – the Cougars didn’t even show up to play until the second half – to Levine’s failures as head coach at Houston. The fact is, Levine simply wasn’t ready to be a head coach, and although I’m sure he is a good guy who tried his best, his mediocre record, his continually unprepared and uninspired teams, and his recurring losses to vastly inferior programs spoke for themselves. UH AD Mack Rhoades did the right thing by cutting Levine loose before the program slipped further. 

Rhoades and the Cougars announced Levine’s replacement last week: current Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman, who will officially take over once the Buckeyes either win or are eliminated from the College Football Playoff. Herman, who was officially introduced as the Coogs' next head coach at a press conference last Friday, recently won the Broyles Award for the nation’s top assistant college football coach and seems to be regarded as an up-and-comer by pigskin pundits nationwide. Back to the Houston Press, whose Sean Pendergast lists three reasons why this is a good hire for the Coogs:
1. Herman has deep ties to the state of Texas, having started his coaching career as a graduate assistant on Mack Brown's staff at Texas in the late 90's before moving on to Sam Houston State as wide receivers coach from 2001 through 2004. From there, he was the architect of prolific offenses at Texas State (conference scoring leaders in 2005 and 2006) and Rice (broke 40 school records in two seasons, 2007 and 2008), before heading north to Iowa State (2009-2011) and Ohio State (2012-2014). Herman's experience in Texas, along with his offensive style, should pay immediate dividends on the recruiting trial.

2. As outlined in the previous paragraph, Herman's calling card everywhere he has coordinated has been wildly prolific offenses. For a Houston fan base that was reenergized in the early 2000's by Art Briles' offenses and then from 2008 through 2011 with Kevin Sumlin's system, the Levine Era was comparatively one big sad face emoji offensively, plagued by a revolving door at offensive coordinator (as mentioned, four in three years). For a school that just invested nine figures in a new venue, a more watchable brand of offensive football is practically a necessity for survival attendance-wise. Herman's offensive pelts on the wall are impressive, capped off by a 59-0 win in the Big Ten title game with Ohio State's third string quarterback Cardale Jones starting.

3. A more watchable, winning product coached by one of the hottest head coaching prospects in the country should be much more marketable to the Big 12 if indeed the conference chooses to expand to twelve teams any time soon. The conference that Houston resides in now (the American Athletic Conference) is in perpetual danger of disintegrating and will always be a target to be raided by the big boys. Houston's primary goal, above anything else, needs to be ensuring that it's a target of a raid not a victim of the fallout. Ultimately, a U of H move to the Big 12 may just not be in the cards, but hiring Herman is undoubtedly a plus in this effort. 
I am also skeptical of a Big 12 invite, but the fact is that the University of Houston did not invest in a new stadium just to lose to teams like UTSA, be an also-ran in the relatively weak American Athletic Conference, and watch crowds for its home games steadily dwindle as the city’s notoriously fair-weather, front-runner fanbase lost interest in the program. If Houston Cougar football truly is to become nationally relevant again, it simply can't remain mired in mediocrity that was the Levine regime.

Obviously Herman has yet to coach a game for the Cougars, and there’s always a risk associated with hiring somebody without a head coaching track record, but for what it’s worth I like this hire. Herman has a strong coaching pedigree and I think his Texas connections as well as his offensive philosophy will serve him well at Houston.

If Herman is successful at Houston, it is probable that he will move on to another job at a higher profile school in a three or four years. That’s fine with me, because it will have meant that he left the program in better shape than he found it; my only request for Coach Herman is that he not screw the Cougars the way Kevin Sumlin did when he left for Texas A&M (who cost the Coogs a Sugar Bowl appearance by spending too much time negotiating with the Aggies and too little time preparing for the Conference USA Championship Game).

Herman will become the highest-paid football coach in UH history with a $6.75 million, five-year contract. Apparently he was given a decent amount of money for assistant hires as well, and those will prove key to his success here. Herman has indicated that he would like to retain defensive coordinator David Gibbs, who will serve as the Cougars’ interim head coach for their bowl game against Pitt on January 2, as DC in his new staff. Former Longhorn QB Major Applewhite is apparently being considered to serve as Herman’s OC. 

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