There was something very Nixonian to the end of Jim Leavitt.
It wasn’t the act itself of the South Florida coach allegedly grabbing the throat of a player and hitting him. It was the denials and interference with an investigation that got Leavitt fired on Friday. There was a hint of Watergate cover-up to the whole thing.
It was an unfortunate end to a brilliant career at South Florida and a troubling continuation of a coaching trend. Leavitt has been the only coach the school has known. Thirteen years ago he bought the first footballs, worked out of a trailer for years, coaching the Bulls to the brink of a Big East title.
Now this, a sordid termination letter where athletic director Doug Woolard is very specific about Leavitt’s misdeeds.
He was fired with cause. The school said his conduct was “not compatible with USF’s educational mission and the health and welfare of USF student athletes.”
Health and welfare? Where is the coaching profession headed? This is the third such incident in slightly more than a month. Kansas’ Mark Mangino resigned under pressure after allegations surfaced of mistreatment of players. Texas Tech’s Mike Leach was fired after doing whatever he did to Adam James. Mangino and Leavitt coached together under Bill Snyder at Kansas State. All three coaching with or for Bob Stoops at some point.
Other than, there are few connections except the alleged mistreatment of athletes. Leach is aggressively fighting his firing, alleging that his former employers made “slanderous and libelous” statements about him. The situation at Texas Tech quickly degenerated into a he said/he said argument as both sides argued over the semantics of “electrical closet” and “shed”.
At this point, Mangino looks the most sane. Allegations of his mistreatment of players went back at least eight years. In the end, he settled on a buyout with the university. The whole affair was wrapped up in less than a month.
Maybe all three should take something from Woolard’s letter: “The disparity in authority and power between you as the head coach and the student athlete makes your conduct more serious.”
Maybe this will signal the end of the coach-as-bully syndrome. Maybe it’s just the beginning as more parents and players become empowered by recent events.
One player said that Leavitt “flat-out lied” when he denied going after walk on Joel Miller. Another player told an investigator that he “knew he has witnessed a crime.” The most troubling accusation is that Leavitt tried to intimidate walk-on Joel Miller by telling him “choose his words wisely” because the coach was “the most powerful man in the building.”
Of the three recent coaching situations, Friday’s might have been the weirdest yet. At the time Leavitt was fired, Miller had actually recanted his original accusation that the coach had grabbed him by the throat at halftime of a Nov. 21
“I’m very disappointed,” Leavitt told CBSSports.com. “I’ll respond at the appropriate time. “
Oh, he’ll respond all right, probably with some “inspiration” provided by Leach’s lawyers.
The next coach could walk into a gold mine. In the fluid Big East, South Florida could win the league as soon as next year. I’d love to see Florida defensive line coach Dan McCarney get another shot. He got shafted after 12 years at Iowa State and has rebuilt his rep with a national championship with the Gators.
You can bet agent Jimmy Sexton will be trying to get his client Tommy Tuberville an interview. You even hear the name of Steve Spurrier. South Florida could be his retirement job.
Home runs, all three.
Just like Leach and Mangino, though, you wonder if Leavitt will coach on the BCS level again.