Talk of Bulls' future turns to ECU's Holtz
TAMPA – Even as Jim Leavitt was making an emotional plea to get his old job back, USF athletic director Doug Woolard’s focus was in Orlando at the national coaches’ convention, where all the buzz Monday was on East Carolina coach Skip Holtz emerging as a prime candidate to be Leavitt’s successor.
Nothing could be confirmed late Monday, but speculation was heavy that the Bulls could be a match for Holtz, the son of a coaching great who has guided the Pirates to back-to-back Conference USA championships.
Holtz, who has a 38-27 record in five seasons at ECU, has strong family ties to Florida and professional ties to Big East schools. The talk among coaches in Orlando suggests Woolard is acting quickly to find a new coach after the school fired Leavitt on Friday morning.
Holtz, 45, is the son of Notre Dame and South Carolina coach Lou Holtz, now a popular analyst with ESPN who lives in Central Florida near Orlando. The coach’s wife, Jennifer, is from Port Charlotte, and the two met while he was a graduate assistant at Florida State from 1987-88.
Holtz has ties to Big East schools as well, having been head coach at Connecticut from 1994-98, before the Huskies joined the Big East, and he finished his college career at Notre Dame. He also coached with the Fighting Irish, from 1990-93.
Leavitt, flanked by newly retained attorneys, vowed to fight for his job Friday morning, saying his termination was unwarranted.
"The allegations are misreported," Leavitt said. "I've said that from Day 1. … I want to coach this football team. … I'm going to fight for it because I know what's right."
Leavitt, fired Friday after a university investigation found that he grabbed a walk-on running back by the throat and slapped him twice in the face during halftime of a game in November, spoke from the law offices of Florin Roebig in Palm Harbor. He contends he was wrongfully fired and seeks reinstatement.
A post-termination meeting between Leavitt and USF is set for Wednesday, but the university issued a statement Friday saying it stood by the finding of its investigation.
"We believe the reviewers, both internal and external, were fair, thorough and professional in finding that the head coach crossed a line in terms of his conduct," vice president of communications Michael Hoad said in a statement. "As the president said on Friday, this is a sad turn of events. Jim Leavitt worked hard for 14 years at USF, and it is disappointing."
A statement from Leavitt's atttorney says Miller and his father, Paul, "have both repeatedly denied publicly and during the University's investigation that coach Leavitt did anything improper." The Miller family has retained the services of Tampa attorney Barry Cohen, who has not determined if any civil action will be taken against USF, Leavitt or anyone else.
USF determined Leavitt's firing to be "with cause," which means under the terms of his seven-year, $12.6 million contract, he would only be paid one month's base pay, which is $66,667. Had he been fired "without cause," he would be entitled to 75 percent of his remaining contract, which is $7.1 million.
Running backs coach Carl Franks elevated to interim coach and all nine assistants kept on staff until a new coach is named.
DUNGY VISITS: At athletic director Doug Woolard's request, former Bucs and Colts coach Tony Dungy spoke to USF's football team, which met Monday for the first time since Leavitt's firing. "He told them that when he was fired, the Bucs won the Super Bowl the next year," Franks said.
MOFFITT INJURED: Former USF linebacker Ben Moffitt, a first-team All-Big East selection in 2007, was badly injured in a car accident on I-75 on Monday morning. Moffitt was listed in serious condition at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa; his injuries weren't believed to be life-threatening. He has been out of football for the past year.