New witness says Leavitt didn't hit Miller
TAMPA -- It remains unlikely to change the fact that he's been fired as USF's football coach, but attorneys for Jim Leavitt on Wednesday produced a new witness who said he was in the locker room during the alleged incident and was not interviewed during the university's investigation.
Mike Durakovic is the father of freshman walk-on defensive end Cody Durakovic and is a volunteer assistant with the Bulls, frequently attending practices and games. He said he was walking into the Bulls' locker room during halftime of USF's Nov. 21 game against Louisville when he saw Leavitt with his hand on walk-on running back Joel Miller's shoulder.
"He was like five feet from me," said Durakovic, whose account of the incident differs from the findings of a university investigation, which determined that Leavitt grabbed Miller by the throat and slapped him twice in the face, a "serious violation" of university conduct policies that ultimately cost Leavitt his job.
Durakovic, a former assistant at Sickles High who works as a builder and said he is not in any way compensated by USF, said he could plainly see Leavitt as he interacted with Miller, and hear some of his words as well.
"I heard him say 'Hey! Come on! You're better than that! Don't worry about it!'" Durakovic said, recalling what he saw in the front left corner of the locker room. "He had his hand on his shoulder pad. I saw him lift his chin up with his hand. (Had there been a slap) I would have seen it."
"I did not see that (as alleged). That's all I saw. I told Coach and he asked me if I'd talk, and I told him 'I'll say the truth of what I saw. That's the only thing I can say.'"
Asked why he did not step forward during more than three weeks of investigations, which interviewed 29 other people in the locker room, Durakovic said he "never believed" that Leavitt would be found to have done what he was accused of, and was busy with his job and not around the team.
While supportive of Leavitt's account of what happened, Durakovic's testimony contradicts that of Leavitt, who told investigators there was "no way" he could have touched Miller's face, according to the report.
Even if USF considers Durakovic's testimonial, it's unlikely to change its decision. Investigators had talked to other witnesses -- including USF strength coach Ronnie McKeefery and a Highway Patrol officer -- who said they did not see Leavitt grab Miller by the throat or slap him twice. Faced with conflicting accounts, investigators put more credence in the consistency of players who said they saw the incident as the university's investigation ruled.