Verbatim: Leavitt Q&A on NFL Network
In truth, I'd only taped "College Football Now" on NFL Network on Wednesday because my friend and colleague Larry Weisbaum from USFnation.com was among the show's guests. As it turns out, so was USF coach Jim Leavitt, who seemed at ease in a five-minute conversation with host Paul Burmeister and analysts Mike Mayock and Charles Davis. Sure, I'll transcribe it for you ...
PB: All three of us are looking forward to the only coach the University of South Florida has ever known. Entering his 12th season in Tampa, Jim Leavitt. Coach, thanks for being with us. I want to start by taking a little trip back to last year. Such an up and down year. You climb the polls to No. 2, you end the season unranked. How are you better, how is your team better off for having experienced that?
Leavitt: Going through the experience of getting that high, then really as we dipped and came back and won a number of games, just going through the novelty of it, our players had never gone through something like that, so hopefully the experience of going through that will help them this year.
MM: Coach, this is Mike Mayock. I'm really intrigued by your quarterback, Matt Grothe. He looks like the kind of guy to me, if you've ever played pickup basketball, where winners keep the court for the whole day, he's the kind of guy I'd want on my team, and I think I'd probably play basketball all afternoon. Would that be fair?
Leavitt: Mike, you're right. Matt, he's a competitor, he loves the challenge. He does great things with the football, and if I was going to the bank, I'd want him with me.
CD: Coach, Charles Davis. Last year, your defense only gave up eight rushing touchdowns all year long. You did have some key losses, but George Selvie is back. One of those key losses, your middle linebacker, Ben Moffitt. Will Tyrone McKenzie, your outside linebacker, led your team in tackles, will he swing to the middle at all this year? Or will you go maybe with a juco guy by the name of Kion Wilson, or Chris Robinson?
Leavitt: Well, Kion's the one that's in the middle right now. Tyrone can play in the middle, and so can Brouce Mompremier, but we're going with Kion, at least to start off the season, see how he does. He's been working extremely hard, he's doing some awfully good things. Chris is a good player, and we have another young man named Sabbath Joseph that's going to play some pretty good football for us this year.
PB: Coach, I know you probably don't pay a whole lot of attention to this, but a little north of you in Gainesville, a lot of talk about Tim Tebow and how they'd like for him to run the ball a little less this season. Mike mentioned Matt Grothe, and I want to get it back to him. He averaged 14 carries a game last year. Is that too many, or is that something you want to see stay the same?
Leavitt: No, we ain't going to change. Matt's a playmaker. You said in a pickup game, you want Matt with the ball and helping you out, and I'm the same way. I want the ball in his hands, whether he's throwing it, running it, delivering it, whatever he does. We're not going to change what we do. We were successful with it, we're going to stay with it. If the need to hand it off is there, we'll do that. Otherwise, he'll run it or throw it.
MM: Coach, I watched an awful lot of tape of your draft picks at the corner position last year, Mike Jenkins and Trae Williams. When you lose two NFL draft picks out on the edge like that, can you be anywhere near as good looking ahead to this year at corner?
Leavitt: Those guys were great players, and we all know that. But Jerome Murphy and Tyller Roberts played a lot of football at corner last year, and Quenton Washington and Tyson Butler and Theo Wilson are doing a great job backing up those two guys. People leave, they go on, move on, and we've got to be better. We've got to be better at the position there if we're going to be better as a football team.
CD: Coach, you know Bob Stoops worked for Steve Spurrier at the University of Florida, so many people thought that he started wearing a visor because he'd hung out with Darth Visor himself. But my understanding is that you guys, while you were at Kansas State, you introduced the visor to him. Tell us a little about that.
Leavitt: Shoot, I introduced all kinds of things to Bob. You kidding me? (laughter)
(Would you care to elaborate, Coach? Give us everything.)
Leavitt: Yeah, Bob, he needs a lot of work. I'm just kidding. I always wore that visor when I was at small colleges, Morningside, Dubuque and everything. I just wore it at Kansas State. Bob, he's just trying to copy me.
MM: Coach, I know coaches hate to look ahead, and I know Tennessee-Martin is No. 1 up, but after that you've got an in-state rival with UCF, and then, I'm really intrigued when Kansas comes to town. Can you tell us a little about that inter-conference matchup and whether or not people are looking ahead to that game?
Leavitt: You're right. Coaches don't want to look ahead. It's just the way we are. Tennessee-Martin, if we get by that game, Central Florida's awfully strong, won the conference championship last year. Kansas, a good friend of mine, Mark Mangino, is coaching up there, and they're loaded. They're awfully good. It's going to take all we have to get through any of them. Like you said, all I'm thinking about is our special-teams meeting in about an hour. That's about it, or I'd get confused. You guys always try to do that stuff to us.
PB: He dodged it well. Coach Leavitt, thanks for being with it, congratulations on back-to-back 9-4 seasons and best of luck chasing the Big East title.
-- Later, the analysts talked about the league. Mayock is taking Cincinnati (!) to win the league, with USF finishing fourth behind West Virginia and Rutgers. Why USF fourth: "I don't even know. They can play. They've got a great schedule in front of them. The playmakers really make a difference there. You've got Grothe and Selvie, they're the two guys on that team."
Davis, however, is picking USF. "Last year, getting up to the heights they were, No. 2 in the country, then having a little bit of a skid, taught this team a great lesson. Remember this is the team that has shut down West Virginia the last two years and really left no doubt in either ballgame. If they win the Big East, you're going to hand Wally Burnham, their defensive coordinator, a game ball." Davis has Connecticut all the way down in seventh.