Now that the Gatorade has dried, Tony Levine must put together a coaching staff for 2012. Will he be able to persuade offensive coordinator Jason Phillips to stay?
When Houston promoted assistant head coach Tony Levine to head coach in the wake of Kevin Sumlin's departure, the move stressed continuity, the sense that, despite the graduation of one of the best senior classes in school history, UH has a good thing going, and doesn't need to start over from scratch with an outside hire.
Now that Levine has taken the job - and gotten off to a 1-0 start - his task becomes one of making that continuity extends to the assistant coaching positions, as well. So far, Sumlin has made that difficult, as quarterbacks coach/co-offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury and offensive line coach B.J. Anderson are already reported to be taking similar jobs in College Station, with running back's coach Clarence McKinney rumored to be following them. Defensive coordinator Brian Stewart is also leaving to pursue other opportunities, although it's not immediately clear where.
But Levine has been so confident in the staff that is remaining that it doesn't even seem like he's looking outside of it for replacements. As soon as Anderson and Stewart left, Levine moved quickly to replace them with Lee Hays (currently assistant OL coach) and Jamie Bryant (currently linebackers coach), respectively.
I have no reason to doubt the hire of Hays, and Bryant did a fantastic job with the Coogs' linebackers in his first year on the job (and has previous DC experience at Vanderbilt), but the fact that a bigger coaching search doesn't appear to have been conducted, especially for the defensive coordinator position, will be something that Levine will have to answer for if the hires don't pan out.
However, for the time being, Levine has done nothing but inspire confidence with his words and actions, so he's earned the benefit of the doubt. Hays was part of the staff that did a very good job with a young offensive line this year (breaking in three underclassman starters), and if Bryant can do for the entire defense what he did for the linebackers, the Cougars are in great shape.
While there will be a number of positional coaching vacancies to fill, the biggest remaining piece to the coaching puzzle is Jason Phillips. Phillips pre-dates Levine on the Houston staff, is well known as a fantastic recruiter, and has had experience, as a player and a coach, with such great offensive minds as John Jenkins, Dennis Green, Guy Moriss, Art Briles, Sumlin and Dana Holgorsen. This year, Phillips was co-offensive coordinator with Kingsbury, although Kingsbury called the plays. While Phillips was a finalist for the head coaching job, and has every right to be disappointed that he didn't get it, he does figure to be in line for the mini-promotion to playcaller if he stays around. Phillips is reported to be considering his options, although he hasn't made an official decision yet, in regards to staying in or leaving Houston.
Phillips, both for his offensive knowledge and recruiting prowess, can be a huge piece of Houston's future. When Levine took the head coaching job, and described his role as a CEO, with the OC being the "head coach of the offense" and the DC being the "head coach of the defense", Cougar fans immediately knew there was no better man to be the head coach of Houston's prolific offense than Phillips. If he stays, most of the Cougar faithful will have to feel pretty good about the team's staff moving forward. If not, Houston will figure to get its first outside hire of the year.