Levine wears many hats as top special teams schemer
One of the most underappreciated parts of football is the special teams unit.
Kickoffs, field goals and punts sometimes get lost in the hype of offense and defense.
The man tasked with coaching this wide range of players at UH is Tony Levine.
Devising blocking schemes, and giving guidance to kickers, punters and returners are just a fraction of Levine’s responsibilities for the Cougars.
While it will be all business on the sidelines Saturday against UCLA, Levine has adopted a mentality that it is not always about striking fear in players.
“Coach Levine has some of the driest humor ever,” junior kicker Matt Hogan said. “He will talk to me and I won’t even know what he’s saying or what he just tried to explain, then he tells me ‘that was a joke, laugh.’
“It keeps everybody relaxed around him. Some coaches are uptight, but not him. You feel pretty relaxed, but he also has the switch where he can turn it on and get serious.”
Levine is known to keep the atmosphere loose at practice to make younger players feel comfortable.
“There’s a lot more to life than the game of football,” he said. “There’s a time and a place for it. One of the toughest things for an 18 or 19-year-old to do is practice football.”
The Cougars have a trio of players in the kicking game. Like last year, Hogan will handle extra point and field goal duties, while sophomore Richi Leone will be the punter. Senior Jordan Mannisto will handle most kickoffs.
“I’m a big believer in not having a guy kick off more than six times in a game,” Levine said. “That really taxes your leg. Richie and Jordan are battling for that starting spot, but they’ll both be kicking off this season.
“We had a good rotation last season. The way we approach things whether its running back, linebacker or the kicking game is the best guy plays. If we had one guy that won all three jobs than he’d do all three. It just so happens that we’re fortunate to have three very talented young men in three separate special teams.”
Handling kickoff returns will be senior wide receiver Tyron Carrier, who is one return touchdown away from tying the all-time NCAA mark of seven. On punts will be his counterpart at receiver, senior Patrick Edwards.
It is a daunting task to avoid the onslaught of 10 players rushing one, but some players like putting their nerves to the test.
“I like the adrenaline,” Edwards said. “Sometimes I like to live on the edge. It’s pretty challenging, but at the same time it’s fun. To catch the ball and make a lot of guys miss coming at you full speed.”
While Carrier and Edwards are two of the more elusive players on the roster, it takes a perfect storm of speed and timely blocks down the field for a return touchdown.
“Without those 10 guys blocking for them, they’re not going to get the yards they could with their speed and quickness,” Levine said.
Besides being special teams coordinator, Levine is also an assistant head coach, inside wide receivers coach and tight ends coach.
“Somebody told me that I have the longest business card in the country,” Levine said. “It’s fun to get to work on offense, the kicking game and to get to work closely with coach Sumlin. It’s an honor to be here and I enjoy everything that goes along with all my responsibilities.”
In college, Levine played as a wide receiver at Minnesota from 1991-1995, while Sumlin was an assistant for the Gophers, specializing at the position.
The two never coached together until they came to UH, but Levine has been on Sumlin’s staff since his start as a head coach four seasons ago.
After his playing days were through, Levine had coaching stints at Texas State, Auburn, Louisville Louisiana Tech and the Carolina Panthers of the NFL. Throughout that time he and Sumlin kept a correspondence that led to his current job.
“We’ve stayed in close contact over the years,” Levine said. “He’s been a mentor to me. I remember a lot of the things he’s said over the years.
“I remembered something he said to me the other day my first year of coaching at Texas State. He’s been somebody I’ve looked up to for a long time and have been very blessed and fortunate to be part of his coaching staff.”