Former USF football coach Jim Leavitt’s attorney says an internal investigation by the University that led to the coach’s firing “suppressed” evidence and was not as fair and thorough as administrators claimed.
Leavitt, fired with cause by the University on Jan. 8 after 14 years as head coach, and his attorney, Wil Florin, met with USF’s attorneys on Saturday for nearly six hours. Florin said he confronted USF with clear evidence against the findings of the investigation that found Leavitt grabbed walk-on Joel Miller by the throat and slapped his face at halftime of a game against Louisville on Nov. 21, then interfered with the investigation and lied about it.
Florin, who would not elaborate anymore on Saturday’s meeting, specifically pointed to the three non-athlete witnesses in the locker room who support Leavitt’s story that he never hit the player: Benny Perez, a State Highway Patrol officer, Mike Durakovic, a parent of a player and volunteer coach, and strength and conditioning coach Ron McKeefery.
Florin said investigators “buried” the interview with Perez and neglected to interview Durakovic, who publicly defended Leavitt.
“(USF officials) have sat here and they’ve repeatedly said … that the investigation was fair and thorough, but it’s not fair to not fully report (the statement of) an on-duty law enforcement officer who witnessed the whole thing,” Florin said Monday night. “It’s certainly not thorough to not interview (Durakovic), who was 5 feet away and witnessed the whole thing. We gave his name to the University, and (it) never made an effort to interview him.”
USF officials said Monday night that they can’t comment about the mediations because it would violate statutory rules.
Florin said he has a sworn statement from Perez, who has provided security for USF football for eight years, that defends Leavitt far more than what was cited in USF’s report, which included 29 interviews.
“I witnessed coach Leavitt grab Miller’s shoulder pads and attempt to motivate him,” Perez said in the statement. “Coach Leavitt did not grab Miller’s neck nor did he choke or strike Miller.
“If I had seen an assault or battery upon Miller or any student-athlete, I would have had a duty as a law enforcement officer to do something about that and I would have done something about that. However, nothing of the sort occurred.”
Perez told USF what is in that written statement, Florin said, which is why he feels his account was “misrepresented” in the investigation.
Florin said he has requested that USF turn over interview notes and transcriptions from other interviews, but that has been denied.
Florin said Leavitt should not have been fired with cause, meaning he would only be paid one month’s base salary, or $66,667. Leavitt was entering the third year of a seven-year, $12.6-million contract. Had he been fired without cause, he would have been paid 75 percent of his remaining contract, or $7.1 million.
“They’re saying that a highway patrol trooper is not a credible witness,” Florin said. “If the report came out that a state trooper, a parent, a strength coach and several players who all had a clear view of this support coach Leavitt’s version, then this report would have been a much fairer rendition of what came out.”
Miller’s family sought the advice of Tampa attorney Barry Cohen, and at a press conference on Jan. 15, they threatened to file a lawsuit or criminal charges against Leavitt if he did not publicly apologize — which he didn’t. Since then, Florin said he has heard nothing from Cohen’s office, which has not returned messages from The Oracle since Jan. 19.