After two decades in coaching, Tony Levine decided to step away from the profession back in January following his first and only season as the special teams coach at Purdue.
Months later, the former Houston head coach has surfaced in a new profession: restaurant management. More specifically, as detailed by Sports Illustrated’s Bruce Feldman, he is set to open a Chick-fil-A franchise in suburban Houston.
It may seem like a big departure from the coaching world, but Levine told Feldman that there are some parallels:
“The reasons when I was 23 years old that I wanted to get into coaching, the things that I’ve been passionate about for most of my life—developing people, team-building, identifying and recruiting talent, competing—while I had a love for those, I saw an opportunity with Chick-fil-A to become an owner/operator where a lot of those same things that I was passionate about I could keep doing, and the ability to stay in Houston was very important to my wife and I and our family as a whole.”
When Levine resigned from his role at Purdue, he explained that the decision was family-related. He wants to be there as his four children grow up.
“It’s been a privilege and an honor to be a coach for the past 22 years. I will always cherish the friendships and relationships and the memories we’ve made will last a lifetime,” Levine wrote in a message posted on his Twitter account. “Our children are now 12, 10, 8 and 6, and I feel that this is the right time for me to step away from coaching in order to make my family my priority.”
Levine, a Minnesota native who played wide receiver for the Gophers, had coaching stints at Texas State, Auburn, Louisiana Tech, Louisville and with the Carolina Panthers before he landed at Houston in 2008. At first, he was an assistant, coaching special teams, tight ends and outside receivers for Kevin Sumlin. But when Sumlin left UH for Texas A&M, Levine was promoted to head coach. Levine was 21-17 in three seasons as head coach, but was let go in favor of Tom Herman after the 2014 season.
Levine spent 2015 away from the game before accepting a job on Jeff Brohm’s Western Kentucky staff in 2016. He then followed Brohm to Purdue for the 2017 campaign, but the prospect of moving his family back to the Houston area proved to be the best fit.
Levine has a friend who owns some Chick-fil-A franchises in the area and that set the ball rolling for Levine to get a restaurant of his own. But the process wasn’t quite that easy.
Getting the opportunity to own a Chick-fil-A franchise, though, isn’t much easier than landing a five-star recruit. In 2016, the company had about 40,000 owner/operator applications, and less than 100 were selected, according to Carrie Kurlander, Chick-fil-A’s VP of External Communications.
“The selection process is rigorous,” she says. “We look for proven leaders with a heart for service, commitment to thoughtfully and strategically develop talent, while also having a desire to give back to their communities. Tony is all of the above. Our operator community is made up of professionals who come from an interesting and broad experience base. We have former Navy SEALs, Fortune 500 executives and even a winner from Shark Tank. Tony’s experience at the highest level of coaching makes him a compelling selection, and we are thrilled that he has chosen to spend the next chapter of his career in business with us.”
Levine isn’t the first football coach to follow the path to fast food.
Back in 2014, Iowa recruiting coordinator Eric Johnson left the Hawkeyes to open a Culver’s restaurant in Tennessee. Like with Levine, leaving the extreme time demands associated with being on a college football staff was a major factor in the decision.
“You can never get away from it,” Johnson told ESPN. “If you are at dinner and the phone rings, you have to get it. Vacation is the same way. When you are on vacation, you are worried you are missing an opportunity with a prospect. This all takes away from the family. Weekends are nonexistent because of visits. It is just nonstop 365 days of year, and I needed to get off of that train and get a healthy balance in my life.”
Maybe Johnson can share some tips of the fast food trade to Levine before his Chick-fil-A, located in Missouri City, Texas, opens in the coming weeks.
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