Football Press Conference

Dec. 17, 2013

Head Coach Tony Levine

Opening Statement
“Alright, this is a fun time of the year. It’s probably the busiest month of the year for us for a number of reasons. Our student athletes are going through finals right now, we’re practicing, for the most part, every day. Our staff has been on the road for the last two weeks recruiting and in those past two weeks we were at high schools during the day and we’d come back to campus, have practice in the late afternoon and then head back out and do visits with high school recruits in their homes in the evening.”

“A lot going on and certainly the preparation for our bowl game as well. Our focus the last couple of weeks and in this last week in practice is really on getting better and not really looking toward our bowl game opponent just yet. We’ve been able to keep the timing in terms of quarterbacks and receivers, everything within our program, but when you get to bowl season a lot of times with the break in routine from a game on a week-to-week basis you see some programs at times that lose their timing with quarterbacks and receivers, you see special teams mishaps at times and we’re practicing on those things. We’re going ones against ones, not really much scout teams if you will. Then after about an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes, we let our veterans go inside and keep our young guys out for an additional 45 minutes. We really focus on their technique and fundamentals, the game of football and trying to get them better this time of season and this time of year. This is kind of an extra spring practice opportunity for us here in December. We’re going to practice the rest of the week, we’ll give everybody in our program six days off and we’ll come back on the 26th and have another four, five, six days here which will include practices and then on the 31st we will practice that morning and fly to Birmingham in preparation for our bowl game.”

“We are very excited about our bowl game for a number of reasons, in no particular order, to play in a January bowl game is certainly an honor, to play a program such as Vanderbilt with coach Franklin and their staff, great respect for them, the job they’ve done and are doing, and certainly a member of the Southeastern Conference. It will be fun for us to go against Vanderbilt. It’s the only game that day, a noon kickoff on ESPN and I think it’s certainly within reach for our fan base if they want to come see us play in person, to get in their vehicles or go to the airport and take a short flight to Birmingham. It’s exciting, but currently we’re more focused on improving ourselves and really focusing on Houston, then we’ll turn more of our attention in our program to Vanderbilt after the short break.”

On having the opportunity to assess the younger players now
“Absolutely, it’s two-fold. One, with the veterans continuing to work on the timing and not letting them think they’re going to have weeks and weeks off until we play our next game. But yes, with the young guys we’ve certainly seen whether it’s on scout team over the course of the season, I mentioned before that every Thursday during the course of the year we have about a 50-minute practice and then at the end of the practice every Thursday evening we have what we call the ‘Cougar Bowl’ which is where the young guys are doing a live scrimmage for about 15 or 20 minutes. We’ve seen a lot of those guys in action, what we haven’t been able to do is if they’re on scout team during the week and scrimmage at the end on Thursday, they haven’t gotten the true coaching, the one-on-one, the techniques, the fundamentals that they received in August during training camp. That’s what we’re getting back to. That’s what we did in practice last week, that’s what we did today, that’s what we will continue to do this week with the young guys. We go through about an hour and 15 minute practice with everybody, and we’re doing individual at the beginning for about 15 minutes but then when we cut the veterans loose, we go back and do individual again for about 20 minutes and that’s how we start it with the young guys. The numbers at that point are reduced because the veterans have gone inside and you look out there and may see four outside receivers with Coach Middleton, three or four inside receivers with Coach Christian, the numbers are reduced and so the teaching is much better and they’re getting more repetitions as well.”

On keeping the focus and energy before the bowl game
“That’s a good question and an interesting question. When you look at our schedule and you look at student-athletes in season, it becomes a little bit of a grind. When you look back at this year’s schedule, we had the two games, then a bye, then two games and then a bye and then eight straight opportunities without a break. The grind mentally and physically can certainly take their toll. The length of the college season is probably about perfect, so we didn’t come back here three days after the SMU game and get out there and practice. I gave them that week off and we went out on the road recruiting. They went to school everyday and they came over here and worked out with our strength staff two or three times that week depending on where they are in terms of their playing time. I wanted them to get a little bit of a break that week. We came back last week, the veterans were out there for about hour then we kept the young guys afterward, we had official visitors this weekend so they were off Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Our entire coaching staff game planned our bowl opponent all day yesterday, so we did not have anything to do with them, so our student athletes have had the last four days off. We practiced today, tomorrow and Thursday then I’m giving them a six-day break and we’ll come back. We didn’t come back right away and keep going and keep the intensity up because I think at this point in the year, the guys needed a break physically and mentally. What we talked about as a staff, we’re not talking to our student athletes right now about Vanderbilt, it’s about Houston. We don’t play them until two weeks from this Saturday, so I don’t want them mentally to start thinking about Vanderbilt because it’s such a long time until we play them. We’re going to keep that same thing throughout this week, they’ll get away from it next week for a few days and then they’ll come back, it’s going to feel like we’re getting ready for our home opener against Southern back in August. Certainly looking forward to that business trip.”

On what has surprised him about freshman QB John O’Korn
“We felt like he was talented, we felt like he had those intangibles during the recruiting process that you look for in a quarterback, but anticipating him playing as a true freshman, he and his parents sat in my office and we tell the truth, I said ‘I can’t promise you anything. You will get an opportunity to compete and be the starter.’ We tell that to all of our incoming freshman. We had a recruiting group this past weekend with 17 prospects and told them all the same thing as well. He came in and the way it shook out in August, we entered the first game with him as the number two quarterback, we felt like we were going to play him because none of the backups had any college experience in our program. A week after the first game, David Piland suffers the injury and here he is. I don’t want to say it’s a surprise to me how he played as a true freshman. Things come up that you don’t always plan for, but you’d like to redshirt every freshman regardless of position because of a number of different factors, and then for John to come in having been 18, he just had his 19th birthday a couple of weeks ago, and play as well as he did was certainly something we’re proud of him for doing. I think he did an outstanding job this season.”

On signing O’Korn before he was the starter for his high school
“The quarterback position in last year’s class, just going back to the recruiting process, going through that evaluation process was as thorough and exhausting as I’ve seen in my college coaching career, as an assistant as well. For a number of reasons that was extremely important, but also when we found John O’Korn and he was not the starter, there’s a lot that had to go into the decision of we’re going to offer this young man a full athletic-academic scholarship and he hasn’t been named his high school starting quarterback yet. In seeing him, in talking to the countless individuals who had coached him, seen him play, knew about him, had him in camp, we felt very confident as to what type of young man he was off the field, on the field, in the classroom, what kind of character he had, work ethic, couldn’t find anyone to say anything bad about him, and as a junior the senior was also a Division I prospect at his position. Could you say we took a chance on him? Maybe, because he hadn’t run out there with the lights on yet, and certainly the program and St. Thomas Aquinas is recognized as a top program nationally, they play games on national television which is a big deal for high school programs to do. It’s fun to see his growth and development, and the relationship that we have, meaning John and not just myself but our coaching staff and a number of our student-athletes through the recruiting process as he came here a number of times to get to know our program. It’s been fun to see him in the two years or so grow physically, mentally, off the field. It’s been fun and certainly will continue to be.”

On changes in game plan depending on the status of Vanderbilt’s quarterback
“We found that out last night, and we haven’t made any changes to that. Yesterday our staff game planned in our staff rooms all day and into the evening for Vanderbilt, we gave our student-athletes the day off from anything football related. Our focus right now, we’ve slipped some things in at practice just saying ‘Hey, we’re going to try this new concept or this new coverage or this whatever’ but we haven’t told our young men ‘Here’s what we’re doing.’ We had a change at offensive coordinator so there are some things with this time that we’re able to introduce regardless if we’re playing or not. Last week and this week feels more like spring practice where we’re getting ourselves improved by position, individually. Certainly when you do that you’ll improve as a program. We’ve studied a lot of their video, their backup quarterback who has a lot of experience, has played in a lot of games for them this year, he played the entire Florida game when they beat Florida, came back in the Georgia game when their starter was injured, brought them back, they were losing at the time and they beat Georgia, so he’s got a lot of experience, he’s certainly younger, I believe he’s a redshirt freshman, but he’s very talented. We will continue to study film but won’t really implement our game plan until after the guys come back from the break next week.”

On the adjustment with Coach Bush taking over as offensive coordinator
“It’s been a lot easier. Since Coach Bush has been here now two years, been in two almost identical systems when you look at last season and this season. When Coach Meacham came in, a little bit of the terminology changed, some concepts changed, but Coach Bush knows our personnel, knows our student athletes on the offensive side of the football extremely well, he’s got a great understanding of what we’ve done here, what he did really a year ago calling someone else’s offense all year and finishing in the top 15 in the country in total offense, then taking a step back and watching it reinstalled and called this season. I have great confidence in Coach Bush and I like what we’ve seen so far out at practice. As smooth of a transition as you could have, we’re having that right now.”

On looking more towards the spring to implement Coach Bush’s offense or starting that process now
“Yes and no in the fact that our bowl game is so late. There are 35 bowl games and we’re playing in the 33rd bowl game. Because it’s so late we’ve had time to have coaches meetings, practice last week and this week and meetings this week with our student-athletes to show them some things. We’ve had time to look at some new concepts and new things that may not be for January 4th, they may be for next year’s home opener, but we’re not necessarily waiting until spring practice to install some things and look at some other possibilities in terms of our creativity on offense.”

On hiring outside last season and feeling like coach Bush is ready now
“When you look at it last year and you ask was coach Bush ready, he certainly was ready. Prior to this season he’s been an offensive coordinator for six years. However, when you look at his background, whether people label this type of system an Air Raid system or a spread system, I consider Coach Bush to be a brilliant X’s and O’s coach, a great communicator, great teacher. His dad is a very successful, well-respected Texas high school coach, he’s grown up in it. But, he wasn’t in this spread/Air Raid family, that wasn’t quite his background if you will. He called it last year and did a fantastic job, but for him to be able to step back and see it installed, called and implemented one more time, and even to step back after being a coordinator for six years and seeing someone else do it, I think it is going to make him outstanding in the long run. I have great faith and confidence in the job that he’ll do here.”

On if Coach Bush calls plays from the booth or the field
“He will be on the field.”

On sophomore DB Trevon Stewart’s performance this season
“Trevon had a tremendous season. He’s a guy who seems like yesterday he just got to campus and I was saying publicly after those August two-a-day practices a year ago, ‘Well Trevon had another interception,’ or ‘Trevon Stewart caused another fumble,’ and you’ve seen the game slow down for him this year in terms of making those plays. He made those plays as a true freshman, a true freshman All-American a year ago, but leading the nation in turnovers, forcing fumbles, still really one of the top tacklers that we have in our program, playing on a bunch of special teams and having fun doing it. He’s become a leader for us even though this is the end of his third semester at the University of Houston. We’re very proud of him and again the work he’s put in during the offseason has paid off. He’s fun to have out there and is going to be fun to continue to watch the next two years.”

On surprise over the defense not getting more first team conference recognition
“I was surprised. It’s always interesting when the all-conference teams come out. I don’t want to wake up tomorrow and it’s a headline in the chronicle that Coach Levine is mad at the other coaches in conference, but I was surprised. It’s voted on by the coaches and they watch all the film. What’s been fun this year is we’ve had a lot of exposure playing on some sort of ESPN basically every week, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN, ESPNews, what’s been fun with that is towards the end of each week, whoever is doing the game, the play-by-play or the color commentator, the producer, I’ve always had a chance to meet with them for 30 to 45 minutes and talk about some things in our program, some things with upcoming opponents. I’m telling you, just about every week they would comment to me, ‘Hey I met with the other coach and man, they’re talking about No. 92 Joey Mbu, I met with the other coach and they’re talking about a couple of your linebackers, Efrem Oliphant and Derrick Mathews.’ There’s coaches talking about it apparently unless they’re not telling me the truth, and then the teams come out and I certainly thought we had played very well defensively, but a couple of guys were recognized and a couple weren’t. Not to say that other coaches in their programs aren’t saying the same thing. I saw how many student-athletes were nominated by each program. There were some programs that nominated almost 20 student-athletes and didn’t get as many. I’m sure a lot of head coaches within their program are biased saying they thought a couple of their guys would be recognized. I’m happy for Zach McMillian and Trevon Stewart defensively.”

On thinking the defense’s body of work should have been recognized in conference awards
“Every conference is different, I don’t know that the American Athletic Conference has any honorable mention lists. So it’s first team or second team. It’s a talented league, and when you’re looking at a small handful of guys by position for first team and guys by position for second team, I would certainly think there’s other head coaches within their program that think this guy or that guy within their program should have gotten something as I do. I’ll certainly stand up for our student-athletes, and I think they had a great season.”

On injured players back for the bowl
“Health-wise, Cameron Malveaux should be back. Deontay (Greenberry) will be back. That’s it, our health is good.”

On if he has any connections with Coach Franklin
“No I do not. I met him for the first time last week in Birmingham.”



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