Former USF football coach Jim Leavitt reignited the controversy surrounding his firing by suing the University and its athletic foundation on Monday.
Spring pracitces started this week under new coach Skip Holtz, and, if USF wants to avoid more bad publicity, they must be more than willing to cooperate with Leavitt and his lawyers.
The lawsuit claims the University breached Leavitt’s contract when they fired him with cause by not giving him 10 days notice and not allowing for a pre-termination meeting. Both are provisions in the contract.
Now Leavitt is seeking more than $7 million in compensation, though his contract only entitled him to about $66,000.
After the initial firing, Leavitt fought to get his job back, saying it was not about the money. Now, he is asking for money while still trying to clear his name.
The lawsuit also claims that USF violated public records laws by not responding to several requests for information related to the University’s internal investigation.
After interviewing 29 individuals, investigators concluded that Leavitt grabbed a player by the throat and slapped him in the face twice during halftime of a game in November.
Leavitt’s attorney, Wil Florin claims that investigators suppressed or ignored the eyewitness testimonies of Benny Perez, a State Highway Patrol officer, Mike Durakovic, a parent of a player and volunteer coach, and strength and conditioning coach Ron McKeefery. All three said Leavitt did not strike the player.
Florin, said the investigation was not as fair or thorough as administrators claimed.
According to the lawsuit, USF has ignored requests for witness statements, interview recordings and transcripts and e-mails relating to the firing.
While the University may be unwilling to further compensate Leavitt, the administration should at least release these public records. If officials are confident in their investigation, then they should have nothing to hide, and a little cooperation could go a long way toward ending the lawsuit.
Firing a coach never brings good publicity, but USF may have been too hasty in getting rid of Leavitt. Now, it needs to do everything in its power to stop the lawsuit from going to court, and forcing student athletes to give depositions against their former coach would be a disaster.
If this case drags on, it will cast a pall over USF football and the University as a whole. The University must be more transparent if it is going to stand by its decision to fire Leavitt.