By Austin Block
On Jan. 10, 1982, varsity football offensive coordinator Dave Levy wore what he called “NASA moon gear” to work.
He was not an astronaut before coming to coach the Harvard-Westlake team, but rather a coach of the San Diego Chargers during the legendary Freezer Bowl in Cincinnati, one of the coldest National Football League games ever played. According to an article on espn.com, the temperature was minus nine degrees with a wind chill of minus 59 degrees, though Wikipedia notes that the way wind chill is measured has been changed since then.
“We took any precaution you can take: ski creams with the masks and the plastic glove, and then the scuba glove, but you can only wear so many socks and you can only get one set of long underwear under a football uniform very comfortably,” Levy said. “You saw a lot of ice in guysâ eyebrows, and a mustache or any hair was iced up.”
A week earlier, the team had played in Miami, where the temperature was in the 80âs.
“NASA had special clothing for cold weather on the moon and so we got some of it. It worked fine for coaches,” Levy said. “I was not cold butâ¦ if you faced the wind it pressed that suit against your skin. You knew it was cold; we had a couple of frostbites, toes, nose, a couple of fingers, but nothing severe.”
This game was one of many in a diverse coaching career highlighted by four college football national championships, two CIF championships, the only XFL championship ever played, pro and college football success, and countless successful athletes.
Levy, 76, can be found on the field during practices and games, wearing his customary gray sweatpants, or sitting at a desk in the boysâ locker room watching film or strategizing.
During football season, he works from 8 a.m. to 6 or 6:30 p.m. every weekday.
“Itâs amazing how for other coaches [players] may just fool around and act like high school students act, but when theyâre with him, the demeanor changes, and itâs because of the respect they have for him and for the way he teaches,” Head Football Coach Vic Eumont said.
Levy began coaching in 1956, student teaching while earning his degree at Long Beach State. He spent 20 years working at USC as an assistant coach on the freshman (only for one year) and varsity teams and as an assistant athletic director.
He later was an assistant coach for nine years for the San Diego Chargers in the eighties, for the Detroit Lions for another eight years, and for the Amsterdam NFL Europe team, the Calgary Stampedes of the Canadian Football League, at Estancia High School in Orange County, and for one year with the LA Xtreme, a member of the now defunct XFL.
He joined the Wolverines four years ago after being asked by former Head Coach Jonathan Himmebauch, a former player of his at USC.
Levy joined the Trojans in 1960 after his Long Beach Poly team won the CIF championship two years in a row, and he held various coaching positions under longtime Head Coach John McKay.
The team won national championships in 1962, 1967, 1972, and 1974 and had what he termed “a lot of other good seasons.”
He was widely expected to become head coach when McKay left in 1975, but a friend, who he says is still a friend of his, was given the job instead.
He then made the transition to assistant athletic director, and was unsure if he would ever return to coaching.
During his tenure at USC, he worked with OJ Simpson, Ron Yary, Willie Brown and Mike Garrett. Later, in the NFL, he coached such superstars as Barry Sanders, Charlie Joiner and Dan Fouts.
Levy said he knew Simpson personally, and had lunch with him as recently as the mid 1990s.
“[Simpsonâs murder trial] was very disappointing and shocking because he was great. He had no problem in school academically,” Levy said. “He was fun to coach. He was a great competitive athlete, and a great pro football player. Life is strange… he was a delightful guy.”
Levy said what he enjoyed most about coaching was the people he worked with.
“If you didnât like the people you coached, then I donât see why you would do it,” Levy said. “Winning in and of itself to me isâI hate to sayâ not important, but other than to keep you employed, to me, itâs the people involved in it.”
Levy maintains connections with many people from USC, and said that he is taking his coaching career year by year.
“He is a great teacher, he is a great educator, and he has a great knowledge of the game of football,” Eumont said.
“He brings a maturity and football knowledge to our program that a school like this needs,” Eumont said.