The Curious Case of Jim Leavitt

Bryan FlynnAnalyst IJanuary 15, 2010

TAMPA, FL - SEPTEMBER 12: Coach Mark Mangino of the Kansas Jayhawks and coach Jim Leavitt of the South Florida Bulls talk before play at Raymond James Stadium on September 12, 2008 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

There have been three coaches dismissed this season for physical abuse, mental abuse, or both. Those three coaches are Mark Mangino, Mike Leach, and Jim Leavitt.

All three have been fired by their respective universities and replaced by other coaches. Also, all three coaches have denied any wrong doing before and after they were fired.

On a personal note I want to say I have no problems with anything done by these coaches. They did not put these “grown men” in any dangerous situation where they could be harmed.

I have no problem with a coach saying anything to a player or laying hands on a player. These are “grown men” who if they felt threatened they could protect themselves.

Also guess what these “grown men” could have said no to anything done to them. Just because they are football coaches does not mean they can force players to do anything they want them to do.

In a time when fans and media complain about the entitlement and behavior of athletes this should not be a surprise that coaches do the things they do. But I digress and should move on to the point at hand.

Of all three situations the one at South Florida seems to be the strangest. The actions in question by players at Kansas and Texas Tech have not changed.

Jayhawk players who accused Mangino did not change their story, between the when the story broke to, when Mangino was fired. While teammates and training staff might have disagreed with how the events went down with Red Raider wide receiver Adam James, he never changed his story.

At South Florida this is not the case looking back at the timeline. At halftime of a November 21 game against Louisville Leavitt is accused of grabbing walk-on Joel Miller’s throat and hitting him in the face twice because of a mistake made on special teams.

Leavitt was accused by the player’s father, high school coach, and five unnamed players. The story was reported in mid December by AOL FanHouse.

But even after the original story, reports were coming out of ESPN and other places that Leavitt had met with Miller and his father and apologized for his actions. Miller’s own father even back tracked on his statements.

Paul Miller, the player’s father, said "I stand behind the university and coach Leavitt 100 percent. I truly believe there was no malicious intent to hit anyone. He grabbed his shoulder pad, but it was like a motivational thing," the father told the newspaper. "After talking with Joel, he was satisfied there was not a slap, not at all.”

Miller the player had this to say a few days later. "I believe that my family's story was misrepresented," Joel Miller said.

"I told this to the school when they interviewed me for a half-hour or hour on Tuesday. Basically, I wasn't having a good game on special teams and he tried to motivate me. He [Leavitt] never did any of those things and he never has that I've seen. I had some things on my mind because my Grandfather had died the day before. Coach Leavitt cares about me. We talk all the time."

Even with all the flip-flopping by Paul and Joel Miller, Leavitt the only coach in school history was fired by the University for striking a player then lying about it. The Bulls coach still denied any wrong doing in the matter and hired lawyers to try to get reinstated in his old job.

Now after Leavitt was fired and nearly a week later Joel Miller has decided to flip-flop once again. This time in a statement released by his attorney Barry Cohen, Miller wants a public apology from Leavitt.

Attorneys for Miller say he wants Leavitt to “man up” and admit his wrong doing or face a lawsuit. In the statement Cohen said, “We're ready for a fight," said Barry Cohen, Miller's attorney. "We don't want a fight. We don't want a lawsuit. We don't want to pursue any criminal cases. We just want you to say, 'I made a mistake.' "

The excuse Miller gave for changing his story was that he feared it would ruin his career, create problems for Leavitt, and become a distraction for the team. Still one has to wonder if anything really happened on the day in question.

Sure, you will have people give credence to Miller’s excuse saying he is just young and did not know what to do. Even if you do believe that how do they explain away the flip-flop job done by Miller’s father?

What reason would a grown man have to change his story and the one his son told him. If you are attorney for Leavitt you have to be happy if Miller and his family want to push this issue with their credibility in question.

How is any reasonable person supposed to believe any story to come out of either Paul or Joel Miller after they have changed their story three times? In the mean time Leavitt has strongly denied any wrong doing.

This does not mean Leavitt committed any wrong doing but with all the flip-flopping by the Miller family it does bring up the questions if their story is completely true. The whole story should come out at some point as long as Leavitt decides not to give up his fight.

But with all that has gone on the during this college football season there are two things to take out of this. The first is that Turner Gill, Tommy Tuberville, and Skip Holtz better keep a watch on their actions.

The new coaches of Kansas, Texas Tech and South Florida can take this with them. It is wrong to do anything to a player but assistant coaches are fair game.

The actions of Tom Cable and Mike Locksley have shown this to be true. Cable got away with breaking assistant coach Randy Hanson’s jaw and Locksley was only reprimanded for punching wide receivers coach Jonathan Gerald.


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