In 2014, I got to know some of the coaches at the University of Houston in researching my book (Farewell to Football?), and around this time last year, I went to training camp practice with the team. It was the routine grind of football practice, the last day of “training camp,” in fact, as the team transitioned from two-a-days to the school year and weekly game-oriented practice and meeting schedules. All routine, at least, until near the scheduled end of the practice session, when head coach Tony Levine, who had chatted with me pleasantly earlier in the practice, erupted into a profane harangue at the team and called for the practice to start all over again. Understanding that football coaches can be pretty theatrical in their approach to their teams some times, I didn’t know what to make of it, but it was getting late, I was ready for my dinner, and I headed home.
It turned out that Levine probably had plenty to be upset about. The following week, in their home opener at the brand-new TDECU Stadium, the Cougars laid a huge egg, came out flat on offense, and got beaten badly (27-7) by the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) Roadrunners.
The rest of the season essentially dismantled the expectations I had built up for Coogs football through the off-season, that they would play an exciting pass-happy offense and score a lot of points. As I emailed to my friend and colleague, John Pluta (see his picture here), I expected to see a lot of touchdowns from princely quarterback John O’Korn to hawkish wide receiver Deontay Greenberry. Instead, the passing game went to pot and they turned to a running quarterback and a ground-based offense.
The Cougars went 7-5 in the regular season, and Coach Levine was fired on December 8, even as the team prepared for a lower-echelon bowl game (Armed Forces Bowl against Pittsburgh). The other two coaches, along with Levine, that I interviewed in the off-season were either released (Travis Bush, the offensive coordinator who was blamed for a lot of the team’s struggles) or found other work after the bowl game (Jamie Christian, who coached receivers and special teams).
Bush and Christian talked to me about recruiting high-impact players, both of whom struggled in 2014 after coming on strong the year before. Bush had recruited quarterback John O’Korn, while Christian had brought in receiver Deontay Greenberry. Where are they now?
O’Korn, recruited by Travis Bush out of Florida, had a great freshman year (completing 58% of his passes, with 28 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions), but then basically flopped in 2014 (only completing 52% of his passes and throwing more interceptions than touchdowns–8 to 6) and was eventually replaced by running quarterback Greg Ward (who started the season playing receiver). After Bush and Levine were released at Houston, O’Korn chose to transfer to Michigan, where he hopes to play quarterback for Jim Harbaugh.
Greenberry had a breakout season for Houston in 2013 (catching 82 for 1,202 yards and 11 touchdowns) after Coach Christian helped change his mind about playing at Notre Dame, where he had initially committed. The receiver then suffered from the decline in the passing offense in 2014 (72 receptions for 841 yards and 6 TD; possibly the result of offensive coordinator Doug Meacham departing for Texas Christian University after the 2013 season), and chose to enter the NFL draft rather than return to college football. He went undrafted but was signed by the Dallas Cowboys, and is currently hoping to make the team in training camp. I don’t expect that he completed his degree.
Jamie Christian, who recruited Greenberry out of California, is now coaching running backs at University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV).
I haven’t been able to find out where or if Levine or Bush are coaching this season–maybe someone can answer that question in the comments? [Updated September 2016: Levine is coaching at Western Kentucky University, and Bush is coaching and athletic director at a high school in Seguin, Texas.]
What does it all cost? In addition to the academic disruptions for both of the student-athletes involved, it’s a little troubling what this turbulence costs the university. Levine had been given a raise and extension of his contract before the 2014 season, and the school had to buy out his contract when they fired him. They also had to pay considerably more to his replacement, Tom Herman, who came to Houston from Ohio State, where he was offensive coordinator for the national-champion Buckeyes. And this was all on top of spending more than $128 million for a stadium that was never even close to full after that opening night debacle (I’ll have much more to say about the stadium, and its costs, eventually).
One of the Farewell to Football Examination of Conscience questions asks: what is the proper relationship between athletics and higher education?
Please share your opinion in the comments.