A new era looms

In the midst of a national search for a new football coach, USF has turned to an outside firm to help find a replacement for Jim Leavitt, the program’s only coach, who was fired Friday.

Chuck Neinas, the founder and owner of a search-firm business known as Neinas Sports Services, which identifies candidates for athletic directors and coaching positions and helps facilitate the hiring process, has been involved in hiring more than 60 positions for schools and will assist in USF’s search.

“The reason you bring someone like that in is to get the full scope,” said USF Assistant Director of Athletics Chris Freet.

Freet said another advantage of hiring Neinas is to keep search matters internal, with names of potential candidates thrown around in a constant rumor mill of information, as the University tries to replace Leavitt.

Leavitt was fired after an investigation by the University revealed he slapped walk-on Joel Miller, whose family has sought the service of Tampa attorney Barry Cohen, twice in the face during halftime of a game against Louisville on Nov. 21. The report also says that Leavitt tried to interfere with the investigation.

Though Miller has sought an attorney, there has been no action against USF, and it doesn’t surprise University spokesman Michael Hoad that the family would seek legal advice, saying Sunday night that they were “caught in a bad situation.”

“It’s probably a good thing that he wants to get some advice and some counsel,” Hoad said.

Leavitt has not returned multiple phone calls since Friday from The Oracle.

USF’s focus is finding a replacement as soon as possible.

Potential candidates include Florida defensive line coach Dan McCarney, a former USF assistant, East Carolina coach Skip Holtz and former Clemson coach Tommy Bowden. One potential candidate, former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, was hired by Texas Tech on Saturday.

Neinas helped hire LSU’s Les Miles, Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, Texas’ Mack Brown and Florida’s Urban Meyer — even helped hire USF Athletics Director Doug Woolard in 2004. While the search continues, Woolard has appointed running backs coach Carl Franks to serve as interim coach until a decision is made.

Franks, who has served as running backs coach and recruiting coordinator with USF since 2004, said Friday that he wasn’t given a specific timetable as to when the decision will be made.

“We’re going to move on this thing as quickly as Mr. Woolard can move on this thing,” Franks said. “Woolard spoke to me about maintaining the recruiting, to maintain everything with the staff.

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 today.

“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.”

Some players are still taken back by Leavitt’s firing, including junior kicker Eric Schwartz, who said a number of players he talked to said they had no idea it was coming.

“I took it as everything was done,” he said. “I thought everything had blown over and nothing was happening. To me, I thought everything was fine, and I think a lot of players did, too.”

As for potential players, no recruits have backed out of their commitments yet. National Signing Day is Feb. 3, which makes a new coaching hire even more urgent. Franks said he expects some recruits to open up their commitments.

“I’m sure now that some of them will come out and say they’re opening up their recruiting,” he said. “These Internet sites now … several of them have listed every recruit we have a commitment for.  They become the target for everyone else.  You know that’s going to be out there.”

Leavitt was 95-57 in his career at USF and went to five bowls in the last five years, including a win against Northern Illinois on Jan. 2. 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.

— Additional reporting by Kerry Klecic