Tony Levine's father gave him a framed photo that Levine has in his office at Purdue.
It's a nod to Levine's playing days at Minnesota — scoring a touchdown against the Boilermakers in Ross-Ade Stadium. It was quite a moment for a former walk-on receiver on a day he caught nine passes for 100-plus yards.
On Saturday, Levine will be on the field again with Minnesota but this time on the opposing sidelines as Purdue's special teams coordinator, co-offensive coordinator and tight ends coach.
We caught up with Levine after Tuesday's practice to talk about his home state, his alma mater and more.
GoldandBlack.com: Have you been on the opposite sidelines from Minnesota at any point in your coaching career?
Levine: "I have not. This will be a first for me."
GoldandBlack.com: How do you feel about it?
Levine: "It’s been a while since you’ve been there, but it’s still your school. Absolutely, it is. It’s where I’m from. It’s where I grew up. It was a dream throughout my early years to go there and had a chance, certainly, to be a member of the football team, to play there, to letter and to earn my undergraduate degree. It’s a special place for me and my family. This will be a first. I don’t think there will be a whole lot of sentimental-type emotions Saturday afternoon. It has been some time, but certainly Minnesota is a special place for me."
GoldandBlack.com: You had offers for music scholarships, right? Not in state? Or in state?
Levine: "Those were out of state."
GoldandBlack.com: Did that matter at all or did football ultimately win out when you get a call from Minnesota coaching staff?
Levine: "Ultimately, it came down to probably, first and foremost, it felt like music was something I could do my whole life, and I didn’t want to look back one day and say, wow, I had an opportunity, really, an invitation, if you will, to join a Division I program in the Big Ten Conference in my backyard, a school we grew up having tickets to all the home games, if I turn that opportunity down, would I look back one day and regret not seeing if I would be able to play at that level. That really factored into the decision probably more than anything. Then all of the things that come along with it. Certainly the education and attending school and playing football where my family and friends could see me play were big factors, but I think initially it was more I have an opportunity to play at this level, let me pursue that right now knowing music was something I could still do my whole life."
GoldandBlack.com: I saw a video of you playing saxophone when you were the head coach at Houston with their band. Have you done that here yet? With the Purdue band?
Levine: "No, not yet. I need to."
GoldandBlack.com: It was pretty good, a little riff.
Levine: "I was improvising a little bit. I was a little rusty, but I appreciate the compliment."
GoldandBlack.com: Do you play much still?
Levine: "My brother is a high school band director in Minnesota, and he plays regularly in the Twin Cities. So when you say do I play much, in comparison to a true musician, I don’t. Do I still play? Yes, I do. But I’d say several times a year."
GoldandBlack.com: For fun?
Levine: "For fun, yes."
GoldandBlack.com: Can’t rent you out for a party or something? On the side maybe?
Levine: "We could, as long as it didn’t conflict with practice or a game. When we lived in Bowling Green, Ky., for example, my next door neighbor was a retired WKU professor. The first week we were there, I was out in our front yard one night about 10:30 and I heard a saxophone coming from his home. So I ran into him a couple days later and we got to talking and I said, ‘Did I hear a saxophone last night?’ He said, ‘Yeah, been playing my whole life.’ So about every week or two, he and I on Thursday nights, I’d go to his house, bring my alto saxophone and he’d pull his out, and for about an hour, we played saxophone duets there. It was very relaxing. I miss that at this point."
GoldandBlack.com: I spoke with Bob DeBesse when you were first hired — he was your position coach at Minnesota and Purdue fans recognize that name for other reasons — and he referred to you as the “ultimate try-hard, gym rat.” Do you still have that kind of quality now as a coach? Your work ethic is pretty high, from what I understand.
Levine: "I like to think I’m a perfectionist. I like to think I have a decent work ethic. Try hard, yes, I always do it and still take pride in it. I think a good work ethic and effort go hand-in-hand, so I think those would be attributes that I appreciate him referring to me as, and I think they’re complementary. I think those are things maybe that have carried over from my days as a football player to now what I do professionally."
GoldandBlack.com: You kind of got your coaching start in Minnesota as well, right? Because you coached at your high school?
GoldandBlack.com: Was that were you felt coaching was something you wanted to do?
Levine: "It absolutely was. In college, I changed majors a little bit after my first year and thought coaching is something I think I might want to do. Then I had an opportunity to go back with actually my high school head coach by the name of John Heller. I was the ninth grade head coach and the assistant for the varsity. Once I was able to coach high school for that one year that’s when I knew this is what I wanted to do."
GoldandBlack.com: As it relates to coaching, I’m waiting for some kind of trick on special teams. I was really excited about that once you got here. Are we going to see something soon? You had Terry Wright laying down in the end zone. We’ve seen Richie Worship and Jared Sparks motioning on punt. I know you’re a planner, but this is Week 5 ...
Levine: "Well, I am a planner. We had a quarterback on the punt team last week covering punts. I did notice that on film that I had kickoff returner laying on his stomach. I don’t know what he was doing. Sometimes, if I can give you this analogy, you like to crawl before you walk and walk before you jog and jog before you run and hopefully while you’re doing that, you don’t pull a hamstring along the way. There are some things right now after four games I feel like we are running. There’s quite a few things right now we’ve maybe just got done crawling and now we’re walking. I would put any sort of tricks slash outside-the-box creativity thoughts and concepts into a more, if you feel like you’re to the running point, you feel more comfortable executing those. Honestly, our return game right now statistically is a major disappointment for me, but we’re maybe still trying to work things out personnel-wise to where we can identify some individuals who can give us some more explosive plays in the return game."
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