Leavitt eager for new opportunity with 49ers
HARBOUR ISLAND -- Jim Leavitt's path to coaching in the NFL started last year, when he spent many an early, early morning watching film with Jon Gruden, former coaches filling an uncomfortable void without a team to coach.
"I'd get there about 4, 4:15, and Jon was already going. He was well into his day," the former USF coach said from the Westin Harbour Island, walking distance from the condo he calls home. "I really appreciated him for doing that. I just sat and listened to (Gruden and former NFL coach Rick Venturi) and tried to be around them, learned how they evaluated draft picks. We talked football, and I really enjoyed that."
Leavitt, who spent 32 years as a college coach and built USF from scratch to a Big East team that reached No. 2 in the national rankings, started a new chapter Wednesday, when he was named as linebackers coach of the San Francisco 49ers. After living in Tampa 15 years, across the bay from where he grew up in St. Petersburg, he's moving to another coast, another Bay area, and another level of football.
"I have so much more to learn about football," said Leavitt, who signed a two-year deal to join Jim Harbaugh's staff. "I'm going to be a great listener. I'm very excited, and so appreciative of being allowed to come on that staff. They can hire whoever they want to hire."
Leavitt, 54, is back in football after a difficult year spent largely away from the game -- he was fired by USF in January 2010 after a university investigation found that he committed "serious violations" of its conduct policies by grabbing a player by the throat and striking him twice in the face during halftime of a Nov. 2009 game. Leavitt has denied all the charges against him, and last week reached a $2.75-million settlement with USF to end his wrongful termination lawsuit.
Leavitt leaves this weekend for California, but Wednesday was about spending time with his parents, Pierce and Lois, who have lived in St. Petersburg for the last 44 years, and seeing his daughters, 6-month-old Sofia and 15-year-old Deandra. He said he had "more than a couple" coaching job offers he turned down in recent weeks, saying the only college jobs he would consider were Division I-A head coaching jobs "where there's a shot," and that not every NFL opening would intrigue him the way his new job does.
"This was unique," said Leavitt, who has known Harbaugh's father Jack since USF faced his Western Kentucky team in the Bulls' first four seasons. He had dinner with both Harbaughs last spring during a visit to Stanford. "All I see is opportunity, and being with Jim Harbaugh, a guy who's arguably the hottest coach going right now."
The move away from Tampa gives him some distance from USF, and he said as heated as his firing and the ensuing legal battle were, he still loves the school he called home for 14 years.
"Jim Leavitt's plan was to be at South Florida forever, to retire and watch the Bulls play," he said. "That wasn't God's plan. God had another plan for me. Why? I don't know. There's another plan for me. I embrace that and accept that and have faith in that."
Former Bulls All-American George Selvie, who just finished his rookie season with the Rams, got a text message from Leavitt on Wednesday morning, excited about the chance to join some of his former players in the NFL.
"I told him I get to see him twice a year when we play them, and he said 'Yeah. Get ready," Selvie said Wednesday night. "Coach Leavitt has been there and done that, has all the experience he needs. I feel like he'll do a great job in the NFL and his players will be hungry to win. I'm glad to see him coaching again and back doing something he loves."