Coach: Miller kicked out of Citadel for attitude
The coach that recruited USF walk-on running back Joel Miller to The Citadel in 2007 says the player was booted out of the Division I-AA program for "poor attitude, insubordination (and) disrespect," and that he warned USF coach Jim Leavitt that Miller was a problem before he joined the Bulls.
A university investigation found that Leavitt grabbed Miller by the throat and slapped him twice in the face during halftime of USF's Nov. 21 game against Louisville, a "serious violation" that ultimately cost Leavitt the job he had held for 14 years. Leavitt has denied the allegations against him, and Miller's attorneys are now demanding a public apology and threatening a civil lawsuit or even criminal charges if that apology isn't made. Leavitt's attorneys say that won't happen.
If anyone saw this series of events coming, it might be Ryan Hearn, himself a former USF walk-on football player who has spent the last five years as an assistant coach at The Citadel after working as a graduate assistant on Leavitt's USF staff from 2003-04. He said problems persisted with Miller until he was asked to leave the program.
"We said, 'Joel is no longer allowed in this building. He's not part of this football program,'" Hearn said by phone Thursday night. "I said, 'You cannot be in this building. You cannot be on this campus.' He then transferred to South Florida, of course. It did not hurt anybody up here. And to be honest with you, thank God it happened. His M.O. has carried through. He's been the same guy."
Miller's attorney, Barry Cohen, has described his client as "a courageous kid, a principled kid," but Hearn said Miller was causing problems at The Citadel before he joined the football program, starting with summer classes in 2007.
"We got reports all through summer: 'This kid has a chip on his shoulder. This kid has an attitude problem.' We're not having any other problems. It all seemed to center around this kid," Hearn said. "We bring him in, and it's 'Well, I didn't do that, Coach. They're trying to get me. They have it out for me. Everybody's picking on you.' (I said) They're not picking on you. This school builds principled leaders. They believe you should be able to follow before you lead. The two key principles here are leadership and discipline."
In late summer, Hearn said problems persisted with Miller in "Cadre," where cadets are trained on how to march, to salute and other basics.
"Every day, I was getting a different member of Cadre to come in and say 'Coach, this kid is not a good kid. He's disrespectful to us. He's smarting off, running his mouth, he doesn't want to do this," he said.After Miller was gone, Hearn said he warned Leavitt of the problems he had with Miller, but USF's coach wanted to give Miller another opportunity to play football with the Bulls.
"Leavitt said 'I've always been a believer in second chances,'" Hearn said. "The guy believes in people and has a good heart. I told him everything. I told him what kind of person he was. But I went there as as walk-on, so I said 'More power to you. I hope the young man works out for you.'"
Hearn said the story of Miller and Leavitt has been talked about much at The Citadel
"There's a lot of reasons we talk about this. We've talked about it in a team meeting," Hearn said. "The kid wants a payday. He wants to have money. I've had every player coming up to me: 'Coach, can you believe what this guy's doing to your program?' You hear it over and over. Everybody up here knows Joel, and no one thinks this is out of the ordinary. It's par for the course."
Hearn, ironically, wore the same No. 37 jersey that Miller wears at USF and said it "burns him" that Leavitt is now gone after being USF's coach for its first 13 seasons.
"I would not be in this office right now if it wasn't for that man. I would not be who I am today without that man," Hearn said. "I want him to know that. It's a sad, sad day that guys won't have the opportunity to be under his tutelage.
"Does everybody do things wrong? Yeah. That's life. But I can tell you examples after examples where that guy went out of his way to take care of his players, to be there for his players. He meant so much in so many people's lives. When I look at how I coach my players every day, he's a guy I try to emulate. I try to be like Jim Leavitt."
Leavitt has not returned calls seeking comment since Thursday. Joel Miller's father, Paul, declined to comment when reached by phone Saturday morning. Citadel head football coach Kevin Higgins did not immediately return a call seeking comment.