Despite big bucks, Leavitt chooses to stay

Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, there’s no place like home for Jim Leavitt.

Of course, Dorothy didn’t have half million reasons to love Kansas.

After a brief flirtation with the University of Alabama, USF’s only football coach decided to stay in Tampa by signing a five-year deal worth $2.4 million Dec. 12, seven years to the day when Leavitt, a native of St. Petersburg and a graduate of Dixie Hollins High School, was announced as the Bulls’ first coach.

Discussions to renew Leavitt’s old deal, which didn’t expire until 2005, were supposed to begin last February, but negotiations didn’t intensify until offers started pouring in for Leavitt, who’s guided USF to a 17-5 record in two seasons in Division I-A. Leavitt met in person with Alabama Athletics Director Mal Moore and said he had talks about other openings but declined to say with which schools.

The contract extension will bring Leavitt’s salary from the mid-$100,000s to more than $400,000 in base salary next season. The deal provides for a $25,000 a year annuity and between $40,000-$50,000 for radio and TV appearances in addition to whatever shoe and apparel contracts that Leavitt signs on his own. In the final year of the contract (2007), Leavitt will make almost $600,000. Leavitt, however, was very subdued about almost quadrupling his salary.

“I’m happy, but all it did was make me an average Conference USA coach,” Leavitt said. “In terms of salary, there are schools that pay a lot more and some that pay less.”

Money wasn’t at the heart of the deal according to Leavitt.

“If it was about money, I wouldn’t be here,” he said.

Leavitt originally took a pay cut to come to USF when he left his defensive coordinator position at Kansas and could have made a lot more coaching Alabama. Dennis Franchione made more than a $1 million as the Crimson Tide’s coach in 2002. As part of Leavitt’s deal, any school wishing to sign away Leavitt in the future only needs to pay USF $50,000 for a buyout.

“The buyout is meaningless,” Leavitt said. “If another school wants you, they have the power to take care of that.”

USF will begin its first football season in C-USA in 2003 and construction will also begin on the program’s $18-million athletic facility this month–extra incentives for Leavitt to stick around after USF went 9-2 this season narrowly missing out on appearance in its first bowl.

Leavitt was in discussions for a couple of coaching vacancies last offseason, including interviewing for the Indiana job, which went to former LSU coach Gerry DiNardo.

Alabama went in search of a coach when Dennis Franchione left the Crimson Tide, which will be under NCAA sanctions next year, for Texas A&M. Leavitt was rumored to be a finalist for the job along with New Orleans Saints assistant Mike Riley, the only two candidates interviewed in person for the position. But USF reworked Leavitt’s deal and Riley took his name out of the running when he asked for more time so he could interview for the vacant UCLA head coaching position. Eventually, Alabama picked Washington State coach Mike Price.USF opens the 2003 season Aug. 30 in Birmingham against Alabama.