By Aaron Earls
After helping lead a turnaround of Purdue University football, Tony Levine is making a turnaround of his own.
He’s leaving behind Big Ten football to enter the world of big-time fast food.
Purdue fans were shocked to hear their electrifying special teams coordinator is retiring from coaching to open a Chick-fil-A restaurant.
With new head coach Jeff Brohm, Levine had helped turn Purdue from a Big Ten doormat to bowl game winner.
In 2016, Purdue finished 3-9 with only one conference win. After Brohm took over and brought in a new coaching staff, including Levine, Purdue finished the 2017 season 7-6 with four conference wins and a bowl victory over Arizona.
Thanks to trick plays and fake punks that led to big wins, sports writers began referring to Purdue as college football’s “most dramatic one-year turnaround,” “one of college football’s most entertaining teams,” and “a football funhouse.”
A little trickery on a Friday night 🏈✨ pic.twitter.com/6hoBoU6YHc
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 9, 2017
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) November 25, 2017
But a few weeks after the university’s first bowl win since 2011, Levine tweeted it was “the right time for me to step away from coaching” to make his family his priority.
The 45-year-old up-and-coming coach left it behind to become the owner/operator of a Chick-fil-A franchise outside Houston.
He told Sports Illustrated that much of what made him want to be a coach is also part of running a Chick-fil-A: “developing people, team-building, identifying and recruiting talent, competing.”
Levine, his wife, and their four kids had fallen in love with Houston when he was the head coach at the University of Houston from 2011-14. Running this Chick-fil-A gave them the opportunity to go back.
But being chosen as an owner of a Chick-fil-A may be more difficult than winning a big college football game.
The fast-food company received around 40,000 owner/operator applications in 2016, and fewer than 100 were selected, according to Carrie Kurlander, Chick-fil-A’s VP of external communications.
“The selection process is rigorous,” she told SI. “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.”
The more flexible schedule allows Levine to spend more time with his family, which is more important now than ever.
His wife, Erin, was diagnosed with breast cancer in December and is the midst of chemo treatments.
“I saw that the Lord has worked all this out,” she told SI. “We don’t have family here, but to have Tony be home more, it’s been such a relief for me. That’s allowed me to take a breath or take a nap when I need to.”
Coaching is not completely out of Levine’s system, though. He plans to help his son’s flag football team and he’s brought over some organizational concepts to the restaurant world.
He compared the kitchen director and the front-of-the-restaurant director to offensive and defensive coordinators, but the former special teams coach saw the drive-thru area as the third phase of the business and wants to hire a director for it.
There may not be a place for fake punts in a Chick-fil-A drive-thru, but Levine seems ready to dish out nuggets and sandwiches with just as much success.
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AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of Facts & Trends.