HOUSTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 01: Houston Cougars head coach Tony Levine waits with his players in warmups before their game against the Texas State Bobcats at Robertson Stadium on September 1, 2012 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Tony Levine has a lot on his mind. Like how his team lost to Texas State, and why the Coogs will have their second offensive coordinator in as many games. But don't push the panic button just yet.
Houston Cougar head football coach Tony Levine announced on Monday morning that offensive coordinator Mike Nesbitt had resigned, two days after UH's 30-13 upset defeat at the hands of Texas State. The exact details of how and why Nesbitt went from the playcaller for a team on the brink of an exciting season to unemployed in the span of 40 hours may never be publicly known. But we do know that Nesbitt's Cougar tenure will end with just one game, in which he directed an offense that scored only 13 points. Houston's best offensive player, running back Charles Sims, touched the ball on just 14 of the team's 67 offensive plays.
Any time a struggling coach resigns, there are naturally questions about how voluntary his resignation was, and the Nesbitt decision is no different. Even beat writer Joseph Duarte got in on the action, tweeting that rumor has it that Nesbitt's poor playcalling played a role in the "resignation". (Suggestive quotation marks mine.) Adding to the intrigue is the strange timing of the move, coming after just a single game. Unfortunately, unless Nesbitt had a life-altering experience and gave up football to join a monastery over Levine's protests, or something similarly implausible and convoluted, the situation necessarily reflects poorly on Levine.
If Nesbitt's resignation was a straight firing in disguise, then Levine is overreacting on an epic scale. After all, it's not as though Nesbitt forced David Piland to underthrow an open Deontay Greenberry in the end zone for an interception, or caused Piland to lose his cool in the pocket, or caused the Cougar receivers to drop passes. As the offensive coordinator, he obviously bears plenty of the blame for how his players perform, as well as for the aforementioned head-scratchingly poor decisions made in the calling of plays, but it was Levine who decided to hand the reins of the Cougar offense over to somebody with zero FBS experience. There were bound to be speed bumps along the way at some point. Even the knee-jerkiest of Internet message board users would probably give a coach more than one game to try and figure things out.
On the other hand, if (and this feels much more likely) a difference of philosophies arose as a result of how things went in game one, and/or how the early stages of planning were coming along for game two, that begs the question, how did this divergence of opinion not come to light sooner? Shouldn't these issues have come up during the interview process? If not right then, couldn't Levine and Nesbitt at least have accepted their differences sometime during the off-season, and parted ways in enough time for someone else to step in and prepare for the season? Granted, it's Levine's first head coaching job, and therefore his first time going through the process of hiring a coordinator, but there's really no excuse for things to go south that quickly. If you marry somebody, and then divorce them during the honeymoon because you realized they were crazy, maybe it's your own fault for marrying a crazy person.
While only Levine, athletics director Mack Rhoades, and maybe a few other people know exactly who interviewed for the Coogs' offensive coordinator position, and how those interviews went, it's not as though it could have possibly been a tough sell. The Houston offense is well known around the country for being one of the most exciting and high-scoring attacks in the college game. The last two gentlemen to call plays for the Coogs are now a head coach in the Big 12, and an offensive coordinator in the SEC, respectively. Forgive me for ending two straight paragraphs with analogies, but if you own one of the fastest cars in the race, you shouldn't have a hard time finding a qualified driver to hand the keys to. So what went wrong? We may never know.
Meanwhile, running backs coach Travis Bush has been moved to coaching the quarterbacks, and promoted to calling the plays. Director of Player Personnel Ken McClintock has been promoted to running backs coach. Bush, who does have previous coordinating experience at Texas State and UTSA, will have just five days to prepare for a Louisiana Tech defense that held a Case Keenum-led offense to just seven points for 40 minutes a year ago.
However, as someone once said, things are never as good as they seem, and they're never as bad as they seem. And there is a silver lining to the cloud that is this entire mess. As we've already pointed out, this team just flat out is not untalented. With expectations out the window, the Cougars should be freed up to play fast and loose the rest of the year. After all, the Cougars were underdogs when beating ranked ECU, Tulsa and Oklahoma State the last few years. They were the heavy favorites when they lost to Marshall, UTEP, Southern Miss, and now Texas State.
And as ominous a deadline as the Louisiana Tech game is, that's ultimately not the goal. The goal remains winning a Conference USA title on the way out the door. For as bad as Houston's season-opening loss was, every team in the West division lost by double digits out of the gates. It's still a conference up for grabs, and Houston is still one of the most talented teams in said conference. And the first conference game - the first game of the real season - is still 26 days away. If the Cougars can manage to beat the Bulldogs and/or Bruins before then while figuring things out, that's just gravy. And approaching those games as such will give them a better chance to win than did the uptight manner in which they approached their first game.
Bottom line, if you hurt yourself jumping off the Cougar bandwagon after all the negativity of the past couple days, go ahead and dust yourself off, and hop back on. There's plenty of good seats, and we've got places to go.