Houston to keep Tony Levine

HOUSTON -- Tony Levine will be hired as Houston's full-time coach on Thursday, athletic director Mack Rhoades said.

Levine will replace Kevin Sumlin, who accepted an offer to coach Texas A&M.

The 39-year-old Levine was Sumlin's assistant head coach and special teams coordinator. He took over as interim coach after Sumlin left on Dec. 10 and has been preparing the Cougars (12-1) to play Penn State (9-3) in the TicketCity Bowl in Dallas on Jan. 2.

Levine has been in Houston since Sumlin arrived in 2008. He will be formally introduced at a press conference on Thursday morning.

Levine previously worked as an assistant for the NFL's Carolina Panthers and Louisville.

"Before we began this process, we talked about the characteristics we wanted in the leader of our football program and Tony embodies each of those qualities," Rhoades said in a statement. "We spoke with former players, current student-athletes and interviewed some of the top football coaches in the country, and all of our talks led us right back to Tony."

The Cougars reached unprecedented heights this season, winning their first 12 games and breaking into the top 10 in the Bowl Championship Series standings. Houston was headed for its first BCS berth -- and the first for Conference USA -- until losing at home to Southern Miss in the league's championship game Dec. 3.

But the loss couldn't completely ruin an otherwise historic season.

Quarterback Case Keenum became the Football Bowl Subdivision's career leader in total offense, yards passing and touchdown throws and the Cougars finished the regular season as the nation's leader in total offense and scoring.

Meanwhile, Houston also completed its long-awaited move out into the more lucrative Big East Conference, with the automatic BCS bid attached. The school officially announced plans to build a new football stadium in the near future.

The success spurred speculation about Sumlin for weeks.

He finally met with his players a week after their loss to tell them he was leaving for A&M, where he worked earlier in his career. The popular Levine also spoke to the team and got a standing ovation from the players in the team's auditorium.

Levine met with reporters a few hours after the emotional meeting, and wasn't shy about stating his desire to become a head coach someday. He didn't lobby for the full-time job in Houston, though, saying he didn't think that was the time or place to do it.

On Wednesday night, Levine said that he and his family had found a comfortable home in Houston.

"This is a dream come true for me and my family," Levine said in a statement. "We love Houston and I'm proud to say that Houston is our home. When you have the opportunity to lead a program, it has to be more than a job. Houston is a destination spot.

"Continuing to build this program is a personal challenge because this place means so much to us," Levine said. "We have new facilities on the horizon, we are heading into an AQ (automatic qualifying) conference, we have the vision and leadership of Mack Rhoades and President (Renu) Khator and we have the best fans and student support in America. That's why Houston is so special."

Several assistant coaches went on recruiting trips a day or two after Sumlin's departure, and Houston hosted more than a dozen high-school prospects last weekend. Levine was eager to lock up as many commitments as he could while Rhoades interviewed potential candidates.

"When you look at the landscape of college football, coaches come and go all the time," Levine said on Dec. 10. "But we've been recruiting most of these young men for the past 12 to 18 months, and that goes along with being here for four years. I've got a couple of kids coming in that I've known about since ninth grade.

"In that respect, they've had opportunities, and they've chosen to commit to the University of Houston and not necessarily a coach," Levine said. "We're going to continue to sell what a great place this university is."