Case Keenum spent six years at the University of Houston and helped two coaches get lucrative jobs in the Big 12 Conference. Art Briles moved to Baylor at the end of the regular season in 2007, and Kevin Sumlin moved to Texas A&M at the end of the 2011 regular season.
Briles rapidly built Baylor into a national power and then it came crashing down just as rapidly in an outrageous level of scandal. Sumlin rapidly turned A&M into a national power with Johnny Manziel as his quarterback, and then his tenure ended with his recent firing by the always delusion-driven Aggies.
Keenum also was indirectly responsible for a firing at Houston — that of Tony Levine, the head coach for the final game of Case’s record-setting career for the Cougars.
“There’s a lot of truth to that,” said Levine, laughing slightly during a phone conversation this week.
The problem was perception: Keenum ran the Cougars’ explosive, no-huddle offense with such precision that people started to believe it was the system more than the quarterback.
And when Levine did not win as often as the Cougars had with Keenum, 21-17 in three seasons, he was fired at the end of the 2014 regular season. Sophomore Greg Ward Jr. had taken over for John O’Korn halfway through that season, and Tom Herman (now well paid at Texas) was the coach who benefited most from Ward’s emergence as a star in 2015.
Levine went back to coaching for Jeff Brohm at Western Kentucky in 2016, and moved with him to Purdue for this season as co-offensive coordinator. He started this week recruiting in Texas and was on his way to Florida.
He’s a St. Paul guy and a Vikings fan for life, and is enjoying from a distance the emergence of Keenum as the leader of a team that in two months could be playing the Super Bowl in its new $1.15 billion home stadium.
Levine was contacted to help solve what’s now nearly a 6-year-old mystery:
How is it that Case Keenum, the all-time major college passing leader in completions (1,546), yards (19,217) and touchdowns (155), was not selected in the 2012 NFL draft?
Apparently NFL scouts weren’t impressed, even with his final college game and Levine’s first as a head coach:
Houston’s 30-14 victory over Penn State in the Ticket City Bowl, in which Keenum completed 45 of 69 passes for 532 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Levine was a receivers and special teams coach for Sumlin from 2008 to 2011, the bulk of Keenum’s career. He saw the amazing performances from Keenum, and also what happened to the Cougars in 2010 when Case tore an ACL in the third game of the season at UCLA.
“We started 2-0 with Case,’’ Levine said. “We lost when he got hurt at UCLA and went 3-7 over the last 10 games of the season.’’
Keenum redshirted as a freshman in 2006. In January 2011, he was awarded another season by the NCAA because of the third-game injury. That made Case a sixth-year senior as the Cougars finished 13-1 and wound up No. 8 in the national rankings.
Maybe that was it … the NFL teams thought Keenum was too old to draft at 23? Or his arm was tired from throwing 2,229 collegiate passes?
“I can remember vividly an NFL scout telling me, ‘If Case was 2 inches taller, he would be drafted in the first round,’ ” Levine said. “And the other thing you always heard was, ‘He’s a system quarterback.’
“They tried to come up with every reason they could to ignore the stats he had and the games he won. Whenever I talked to someone from the NFL, I would say, ‘Those stats and wins … they were not by accident.’ ”
The Houston system was first installed by Dana Holgorsen and then added to by Kliff Kingsbury. Holgorsen is now the head coach at West Virginia and Kingsbury at Texas Tech.
The Cougars generally played with four receivers, one running back and no tight ends. It wasn’t all quick read passes. Far from it.
“Case threw short, midrange and deep,’’ Levine said. “He loved to throw deep, as you’ve seen with the Vikings.
“I didn’t recruit him, but he has all the things you look for as a recruiter. He has the arm, the mobility in the pocket, and also the poise and natural leadership. His dad is a famous high school coach in Texas, and you could tell right away that he’s a coach’s kid.
“He’s going to know the offense as well as the coaches. And he’s such a genuine guy, teammates are going to gravitate to him, and that would be whether it was in middle school football, or with the Vikings.’’
Why now … after one season on a practice squad, and 24 starts in four seasons with the Texans and the Rams, is this 6-foot-1, record-holding college quarterback getting NFL raves?
“Opportunity,’’ Levine said. “This is the first time where he’s been able to play the position for an extended period, and have the feeling it is his job to keep. When he played in the past, it was two games here or there, or they were waiting for someone else to play, like [Jared] Goff in L.A.
“I see a comfort level. As a Vikings fan, and even more as a Case Keenum fan, it has been fun to watch him cut it loose again.’’
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. • firstname.lastname@example.org