USF news conference to announce the firing of Jim Leavitt will air live on Bright House Sports Network
USF has scheduled an announcement for noon Friday to announce the firing of Jim Leavitt, the only football coach in the program's 13-year history.
"I'm very disappointed," Leavitt said Friday morning. "I will respond in time."
For the past three weeks, Leavitt has faced allegations that he grabbed walk-on fullback Joel Miller by the throat and struck him twice in the face during halftime of USF's Nov. 21 game against Louisville, accusations that Leavitt strongly denied. The university called for an investigation, interviewing players and staff members who were in the locker room when the incident occurred.
News spread quickly among USF players.
"I feel like he lost his job for no reason," junior receiver Dontavia Bogan. "It's ridiculous. I didn't expect this to happen. Everybody is shocked."
Offensive coordinator Mike Canales said Friday that he was called in during a visit with a recruit and was headed for Tampa. "I'm at a loss for words," said Canales.
Leavitt, who has a 95-57 career record, was named USF's first head coach in December 1995, and he presided over the program's unprecedented rise, joining Division I-A in 2001, Conference USA in 2003 and the Big East in 2005. USF has played in bowl games in each of the last five years, with three wins, including Saturday's 27-3 win against Northern Illinois in the International Bowl in Toronto.
Under Leavitt's guidance, USF was the only school in a BCS conference to open each of the last three seasons with a 5-0 record, but the Bulls have suffered midseason slumps in all three seasons after rising in the national polls. USF has finished no better than 4-3 in any of its five years in the Big East, and the Bulls finished 3-4 this season, in a three-way tie for fourth place in 2009.
Leavitt has been adamant that the allegations originally brought by Fanhouse.com were untrue, saying that he had only grabbed Miller's shoulder pads in a motivational act.
"In my heart, I know I did nothing wrong," Leavitt said last month when the allegations were first reported. "Nothing like that."
Several players have made comments corroborating Leavitt's depiction of what happened. Safety Jerrell Young, who said he saw the incident and told investigators it was not as alleged, spoke to the Times about what happened Thursday.
"I don't think he did anything to cost him his job," Young said. "I won't and I can't let my coach be scrutinized over something he didn't do. It wouldn't be right. I take it upon me to say something because it's not true."
The university must move quickly to find a successor, as the recruiting window has less than a month until national signing day, with major recruiting weekends scheduled for Jan. 15 and Jan. 22.
Leavitt has just finished the second year of a seven-year, $12.6 million contract. His contract calls for him to be compensated with 75 percent of his remaining salary if fired without cause, but USF will likely categorize his firing as with cause.
Potential candidates include former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, who has Florida ties and spoke at USF's coaching clinic this spring; former Clemson coach Tommy Bowden, who has strong ties to the state and experience in a BCS conference, East Carolina coach Skip Holtz, who has had success against BCS programs while producing a consistent winner in Conference USA, and former USF assistant Dan McCarney, now the defensive line coach at Florida, who said earlier this week that he had not been contacted by anyone at USF. Of the current assistants, only running backs coach Carl Franks has experience as a head coach in a BCS program.