Jim Leavitt wants his job back. And he’s willing to fight for it.
After he was fired Friday when an investigation revealed that he grabbed walk-on Joel Miller by the throat and slapped him twice in the face during halftime of a game against Louisville on Nov. 21, the former USF football coach said at a press conference Monday that he wants to retain his job — again denying the allegations against him.
“I’m going to battle for my players in every way I can,” said Leavitt, who claimed the allegations against him had been misreported.
Leavitt spoke passionately about his players and coaching staff, vowing he would try to return to the job he loves — his attorney Thomas D. Roebig Jr. standing at his side in the office of Florin Roebig law firm in Palm Harbor.
“The most powerful thing to me is my relationship to my players,” Leavitt said. “I love them dearly.”
Roebig said Leavitt’s firing was “wrong contractually. It was wrong legally … He should be reinstated in his position as head coach of the USF Bulls.”
along with Leavitt, submitted a letter to USF on Monday. He said the University violated Leavitt’s right to a pre-termination meeting where he could “confront the evidence against him and present his case.”
“The University has denied him this right,” Roebig said. “They have flatly refused to give him that opportunity. They told him they refused this because of emergency circumstances. We have learned these (circumstances) are recruiting efforts. These are not emergency circumstances. This is a legal, contractual fairness issue.”
Roebig also fought to push back a post-termination meeting that was scheduled for 3 p.m. Monday. That meeting was canceled and will most likely be rescheduled for Wednesday, University Spokesman Michael Hoad said Monday night.
“We’re willing to give him reasonable time on the post-termination review … we’re obviously willing to (honor) that part of his contract,” Hoad said.
USF is seeking the help of Tampa attorney Richard McCrea, who will attend the meeting along with other USF officials, Hoad said. Hoad said USF President Judy Genshaft and Athletics Director Doug Woolard probably will not attend the meeting.
According to Leavitt’s contract Genshaft or her designee will have five working days after the meeting to notify Leavitt of her decision.
Roebig said he wants to review all the evidence and analyze the report with Leavitt before they meet with USF officials. He questioned the conclusion the University came to after the investigation had ended.
“Even if you take (the report) for what it is, the greater weight of that evidence supports coach Leavitt,” Ruebig said. “This episode is not as it has been portrayed to be. Some of those witnesses include a Florida-state trooper. It includes (strength) coach (Ron) McKeefery who was standing 3 feet away and others who said this was not as it was portrayed to be.”
Investigators interviewed 29 people for the report, which concluded that Leavitt did hit Miller — though both Leavitt and Miller denied it — and that he lied and tried to cover it up. The report says witness accounts contradict the story Leavitt told.
In response to Roebig’s questioning, Hoad released this statement Monday:
“The University of South Florida stands by its review and the findings from that review. We believe the reviewers, both internal and external, were fair, thorough and professional in finding that the head coach crossed a line in terms of his conduct. As the president said on Friday, this is a sad turn of events. Jim Leavitt worked hard for 14 years at USF, and it is disappointing.”
USF fired Leavitt – who was entering his third year of a seven-year, $12.6 million contract – with cause, meaning he would only be paid one month’s base salary, or $66,667. He was scheduled to make $800,000 this year.
Leavitt would have been paid 75 percent of his remaining contract, or $7.1 million, had he been fired without cause. He said Monday that the situation had nothing to do with seeking a monetary settlement with USF.
“I came here for $65,000 a year. I made $95,000 a year at Kansas State. It has never been about money.” Leavitt said. “I’ve been offered jobs for a lot more money … Why did I do that? Because this is the best place for Jim Leavitt.”
Miller’s family has sought the service of Tampa attorney Barry Cohen, but hasn’t taken any action against Leavitt or USF. Miller’s father, Paul, said Monday that this hasn’t changed.
Meanwhile, USF is still combing the nation for a new coach. USF running backs coach Carl Franks has been named interim head coach during the search.
USF has turned to an outside firm to assist in the search. Chuck Neinas, the founder and owner of a search firm known as Neinas Sports Services, has aided in filling more than 60 positions for schools.
Neinas helped hire LSU’s Les Miles, Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, Texas’ Mack Brown and Florida’s Urban Meyer — he even helped hire Woolard.
Potential candidates for the USF job include former Clemson coach Tommy Bowden, former Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer, Houston coach Kevin Sumlin, East Carolina coach Skip Holtz and Florida defensive line coach Dan McCarney.