After initial reports surfaced Sunday about Houston ready to move in a new direction with its football program, the university made the coaching change official Monday morning. Tony Levine has been relieved of his coaching duties at Houston, sending the school to start on a national coaching search for a replacement.
“Coach Levine and I met several times throughout the season, and again late last night, to discuss the state of the program. Last night I informed him we will be moving in a different direction with our football program,” said Houston athletics director Mack Rhoades said in a statement released by the school Monday morning. “Coach Levine is an outstanding leader and over the last three years he has demonstrated great commitment to our student-athletes and has been an outstanding role model for our young men. He has left the program in a better situation than it was when he inherited it.
“Although we are excited to play in our second straight bowl game, the expectations of our program have changed over the last five years with the opening of TDECU Stadium and the current college football landscape,” Rhoades said. “At this time we will begin the search process for the 14th head coach in Houston Football history and will not comment further until the search is concluded.”
Levine took over the coaching job at Houston after Kevin Sumlin accepted a job offer at Texas A&M. Levine coached Houston to a TicketCity Bowl victory over Penn State at the end of the 2011 season, but the best days of the Houston program may have left town with Sumlin. Houston went 5-7 in its final season in Conference USA and went a combined 15-10 in its first two seasons in the American Athletic Conference. It seems odd to make a coaching change now for Houston, but this is a clear sign the expectations at Houston have been elevated.
What is the ceiling for Houston? Competing for the American Athletic Conference is certainly an attainable task for the program. With an AAC title will come a shot at playing in one of the College Football Playoff bowl games. This season that spot went to Boise State, but the AAC looks to be a conference capable of sending a team to the big money bowls with some regularity. There is little reason to expect Houston not to be in that mix.
It is also interesting to note SMU is also making a coaching change this offseason. Was this a reaction to SMU’s coaching change? Probably not, but the timing is interesting.