USF Investigation of Jim Leavitt Becomes National Issue

Tom EdringtonSenior Writer IDecember 15, 2009

PISCATAWAY, NJ - OCTOBER 18: Jim Leavitt, head coach of the South Florida Bulls yells from the sidelines in the first half of a game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Rutgers Stadium October 18, 2007 in Piscataway, New Jersey. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

The University of South Florida and its head football coach, Jim Leavitt, are all over the national sports headlines and this time, it's not because the Bulls are losing their games in November.

AOL Fanhouse  put out a story on Monday that Leavitt allegedly struck one of his players during halftime of the Bulls' November 21 home game against Louisville.

This is USF's and Leavitt's worst nightmare.

First and foremost, it is the school's worst nightmare because if there is the least bit of substance to the story written by Brett McMurphy, then a huge dark cloud sits over the campus in Tampa, right in the midst of recruiting season.

It is USF's worst nighmare because it reflects not only on the football program, but on all those who sit in authority at the Tampa campus.

The player in the middle of all of this is a walk-on named Joel Miller. McMurphy's story basically said that Leavitt grabbed Miller by the throat and hit him twice in the face during halftime.  McMurphy cited his sources as five eyewitnesses that were comprised of staff members and players.

The story also had Miller's father and high school coach adding validity to the report.

But as quickly as McMurphy wrote the story, Paul Miller, Joel's father, reversed his stand and now sides with Leavitt.

It's all so very messy.

Of course, Leavitt denied the incident emphatically.

"I'm appalled at it. It's absolutely not true. It's so wrong. It's so far out there. I'm very disappointed something like this would be written," Leavitt told the St. Petersburg Times.

If that's the case, Leavitt and the university should simply file a lawsuit against Fanhouse. That way the real truth could come out.

Question is, what is the real truth?

That question is being asked nationally.

ESPN Big East blogger Brian Bennett is asking:

"Who are we supposed to believe here? South Florida needs to find out. That's why the school's internal investigation has to be thorough and honest."

Ah, a thorough and honest investigation of Jim Leavitt. A very novel idea for USF.

The sad fact is that if you dig deep enough, you'd find that USF Athletic Director Doug Woolard in no way wants to cross Leavitt.

He's afraid of Leavitt.

Leavitt has simply become too powerful and he swings his $1.6 million salary and control of the football program like a giant axe, ready to chop off the head of anyone who gets on the wrong side of him.

Likewise, USF President Judy Genshaft wants to stay as far away as she can from problems involving Leavitt.

In short, Leavitt has very much become the 800-pound bully of the USF Athletic Department.

While the story sprawled across ESPN's national news ticker, Joe Schad, who writes about college football on ESPN.com, called Leavitt for a statement.

"All that's on there is absolutely not true," Leavitt told Schad. "A lot of things that are out there are very untrue. I'll have my day to explain it further. Today is not the day."

Well, if today is not the day for Leavitt to tell the truth, then USF better start its investigation immediately.

Someone needs to find out what happened. No doubt those "eyewitnesses" McMurphy talked to are afraid of Leavitt.

Leavitt is, after all, a retribution kinda guy. It shows in the way he handles the media.

McMurphy covered the football program for The Tampa Tribune  from the program's start and got on Leavitt's bad side when he wrote a story about two players failing a drug test a few seasons back. The players confirmed it to McMurphy. When he sought to talk about it with Leavitt, Leavitt wouldn't talk, became angry and thus McMurphy was thereafter treated as an enemy of the program.

That's the way Leavitt operates. If you're not praising the program, you're the enemy.

Sad as it is, that's the way it is.

ESPN's Bennett is right. There needs to be an HONEST investigation.

Needs to be an investigation where witnesses can tell the truth without Leavitt knowing who they are.

USF needs to take that big axe out of Leavitt's hands.

That's the only way the truth will come out. 


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