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USF releases email exchange between AD Harlan, Gonzmart

In an email obtained through a public records request by The Oracle on Friday, prominent USF booster and business-owner Richard Gonzmart expressed his disappointment to USF athletic director Mark Harlan on Monday regarding football coach Willie Taggart’s team-wide ban on Ybor City.

Taggart’s ban, which was overturned by Harlan on Monday evening, stemmed from the stabbing death of former defensive lineman Elkino Watson outside The Orpheum nightclub Sunday morning.

Gonzmart, president of the Columbia Restaurant Group, wrote Harlan that Taggart’s initial comments during his weekly teleconference “impacts my business negatively in the eyes of the readers and jeopardizes our success.”

He added, “What happened in Ybor could have happened at any other club in the Tampa Bay area. The key is staying away from Bars after midnight.”

“It is very sad to read of the former USF football player that was murdered at 3 in the morning,” Gonzmart wrote. “But to say that no USF Athletes are permitted to visit Ybor City makes the historic district seem like the Wild West or a ghetto.”

Gonzmart also told Harlan that The Columbia restaurant has operated until 11 p.m. to midnight for “110 years, 365 days without any serious problems incidents causing death of a patron or employee.”

“The student Atheletics (sic) should have the common sense to not visit any business that is known to individuals whose character and behavior is suspect,” Gonzmart wrote.

In a short reply at 4:04 p.m. Monday, Harlan told Gonzmart, “Can’t agree more…and will make that right. Thanks Richard.”

In a telephone interview with The Oracle on Friday afternoon, Harlan reiterated that his opinion was not swayed by Gonzmart.

“It’s totally understandable under the pressure of why Willie made the comment, but I firmly disagreed with it,” Harlan said. “In my response that I wrote – I said we’ll make it right – that was solely and completely from my belief that educating students and making good decisions is just a better approach.

“I would have responded to the email in the same matter no matter who sent it to me,” he added. “Any insinuation that the decision had anything to do with any interest of the donor is just wrong and completely counter to everything that I believe in and what I stand for.

“I’m here to have the best interest of our kids and this university.”