Friday, January 8, 2010

Leavitt done at South Florida

After 13 years as the only head coach in South Florida's brief college football history, Jim Leavitt has been fired:
South Florida fired football coach Jim Leavitt after a school investigation concluded he grabbed one of his players by the throat, slapped him in the face and then lied about it.
The incident was reported several weeks ago by AOL Fanhouse after sophomore Joel Miller said Leavitt hit him at halftime of a game against Louisville as punishment for a mistake on a special-teams play. The allegation was later rescinded, but the investigation found that several players* directly or indirectly confirmed the original account, and the school determined that the follow-up story from Miller and Leavitt wasn't accurate.
In his letter to Leavitt, Woolard said the athlete's statements after the probe began "are unpersuasive because they were contradicted by the same student athlete in his conversations with credible witnesses made close in time to when that conduct occurred."
With that, the coach who built USF from nothing into a Big East power is gone. After going 5-6 in his first year (1997), the Bulls had only one losing season while going from I-AA to a I-A independent to Conference USA to the Big East. In five years in the Big East, USF has gone to a bowl game every year and has an overall record of 41-24. I'm not sure there's ever been a program that's moved up in the college football world so quickly and so successfully, and Leavitt is the primary reason for that. He leaves with a record of 94-57, a phenomenal achievement considering that he started from scratch. Considering his defensive background, I'll be surprised if he doesn't find a good job as a D-coordinator relatively quickly

A lot of people will compare Leavitt's firing to the Mike Leach situation, but this is a much different scenario. Texas Tech was clearly looking for an excuse to fire Leach as far back as last offseason; Adam James just offered the school an escape. But Leavitt has never had (to my knowledge) any previous problems with players or the USF administration, and while has hasn't quite gotten USF over the hump to an elite bowl game or conference title, it's not like he's been struggling recently: In the past four seasons, the Bulls have gone 9-4, 9-4, 8-5 and 8-5 with a 3-1 bowl record.

Leavitt is an extremely fiery guy, though, and if you want a valid comparison for a good-but-sometimes-too-intense coach doing something stupid in the heat of the moment, here you go:

It's just unfortunate that the same intensity that made him such a great coach has now cost him his job.

* A note to USF: I'm not the most technically savvy person in the world, but I know that putting a black box over names in a PDF doesn't make the text go away. I won't print all the names here for obvious reasons; I'll just say that within 30 seconds of opening the investigative report, I had identified every anonymous player.

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