Leavitt: the chosen one

USF had no choice.

It had to keep Jim Leavitt, the first and only face of the Bulls. It had to pony up the cash, or it had to let him go.

It had to because USF is now in the Big East, and Big East means big money. If USF didn’t want to raise the bar, it wouldn’t have joined the Big East.

Leavitt, one of the lowest-paid BCS coaches, got what was coming to him Wednesday – a raise, and a big one at that. Leavitt’s extension through 2012 will earn him about $1 million annually, nearly doubling what he would have earned with his previous deal.

Even though this raise follows a sensitive game for USF fans, this season – especially if it ends with a bowl game -will be remembered as a success. Yes, the bitter loss to Connecticut and the dubious play calling and decision making that accompanied it was a troubling loss, but one bad call, one brain burp, doesn’t trump all Leavitt’s done for the school’s program. The program has risen a lot lately and so should Leavitt’s salary.

USF could not afford to wait to do this; if they had, another team – such as Kansas State – would have offered millions, and USF couldn’t have afforded that, either.

Leavitt may be a bit standoffish with the media, a bit impenetrable to those he doesn’t coach or work with, but the truth is his players love him. This is a guy who once head butted a player – who still had his helmet on – to stir some fire during a halftime pep talk.

“Coach Leavitt has an opportunity to build a legacy here at USF,” Athletic Director Doug Woolard said in a press release.

The legacy, though, is already built. In nine seasons, Leavitt has taken this team to new level after new level. It’s pleasing to know Woolard recognizes that Leavitt deserves a chance to ascend further.

USF had to do this. And it had no choice because Leavitt’s the best one.