USF coach Jim Leavitt — the program’s only coach — was fired Friday after a near month-long investigation that concluded he committed “serious violations of (the) university policies and codes,” said USF President Judy Genshaft at a press conference.
The investigation found that Leavitt grabbed walk-on Joel Miller and slapped him in the face twice during halftime of a game against Louisville on Nov. 21. The incident was initially reported by Fanhouse.com on Dec. 14.
Leavitt repeatedly denied the report in the last three weeks, saying he would never strike a player.The report says, however, based on “multiple reports from credible direct eye witnesses whose recollection was corroborated,” Leavitt’s denials were not credible. Investigators interviewed 29 individuals about the incident.
The investigation report concludes this is what happened Nov. 21 in the locker room:
– Leavitt’s demeanor in the locker room was “animated and unhappy with the team’s performance. During halftime, Leavitt passionately head-butted a player.
– It appears plausible that Leavitt knew that Miller had performed poorly in the first half of the game, though Leavitt denied it to investigators.
– Because he was upset, Leavitt yelled at Miller, grabbed him by the throat and slapped him twice in the cheek.
– This incident was observed by student athletes who had clear line of sight. And witness accounts contradict the story Leavitt told investigators.
– Miller spoke of the incident to several players after the game, including some who witnessed the incident. Miller was “noticeably upset after the game,” according to a family member interviewed in the report.
The investigation report also says Leavitt was informed he should not discuss the review with any student athlete or anyone else involved in the investigation. But the report says “(Leavitt) admits having spoken to (Miller) immediately after (Miller’s) first interview by reviewers.”
According to the report, investigators concluded that, in fact, Leavitt did say that Miller should “choose his words wisely,” because “(I’m) the most powerful man in the building,” as initially reported by Fanhouse.com.
Leavitt did not return phone calls Friday from The Oracle.
USF running backs coach Carl Franks has been named interim head coach, and all assistant coaches are still on staff.
“(Athletics Director Doug) Woolard spoke to me about maintaining the recruiting, to maintain everything with the staff,” Franks said Friday. “You’re thinking that it is a terrible situation to be in because of the lives that are affected. The assistant coaches are contacting our players. We’re going to have a team meeting, and we’re spending our time making sure we contact all the recruits.”
The search for a new coach begins immediately, Woolard said Friday.
“I’m very disappointed that the findings of the review … ended up with an unacceptable situation for the University,” Woolard said. “I truly wish there had been another outcome to this situation. Jim has served the University so well for 14 years.”
Leavitt is 95-57 is in his career at USF and has been to five bowls in the last five years, including a win against Northern Illinois on Saturday. Leavitt, who was entering the third year of a seven-year, $12.6 million contract, was fired with cause by the University.
According to the review issued by USF’s Board of Trustees, Leavitt “will be paid one-twelfth of his adjusted base rate of pay at time of termination,” meaning one month’s base salary, which is about $66,000.
“We appreciate everything Jim has done and thank him for his service,” Woolard said.
USF wide receivers coach Phil McGeoghan said he talked to Leavitt on Friday, as well as many of the offensive players. He said the team will hold a meeting Monday.
“The (players) deserve answers. Going into spring football and recruiting season, we need to have some direction right now,” he said. “We need to make sure we’re very up front and honest with them throughout the process. I just think there’s some merit in meeting with our guys, looking them in the eye and then telling them what you know and what you don’t know.”
When reached Friday, USF offensive coordinator Mike Canales, who was a member of USF’s original coaching staff in 1996, said: “My heart goes out to coach Leavitt. We’ve been close friends for 14 years. He’s sort of like a big brother to me. It’s obviously a difficult situation for everybody, not only for himself but for our coaches and our families.”
Potential replacements include former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, who led the Tigers to an undefeated season in 2004, former Clemson coach Tommy Bowden and East Carolina coach Skip Holtz.
— Additional reporting by Phil Neary