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Barry Cohen, lawyer for USF Bulls football player, demands apology from former coach Jim Leavitt

USF running back Joel Miller, left, and lawyer Barry Cohen face the media at a news conference in which Miller said he lied about Jim Leavitt not hitting him to protect the team.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

USF running back Joel Miller, left, and lawyer Barry Cohen face the media at a news conference in which Miller said he lied about Jim Leavitt not hitting him to protect the team.

TAMPA — Another coach took Jim Leavitt's old job, but that might not have been the worst thing that happened to him on Thursday.

USF walk-on running back Joel Miller, the player at the center of the locker-room incident that led to Leavitt's firing a week ago today, held a news conference in the offices of lawyer Barry Cohen, who demanded from Leavitt a public apology and threatened a lawsuit and possibly criminal charges.

"There may very well be a lawsuit … if (Leavitt) doesn't step up to the plate and do the right thing," Cohen said. "There are criminal remedies available now. He did slap Joel, hit him twice, grabbed his throat, and you're not allowed to do that to people."

Addressing the absent Leavitt directly, Cohen continued: "It's time to stand up now, Coach, and do the right thing, because if you don't, (Cohen's law partner) Steve Romine and I might not know much about football, but we know a lot about hardball.

"Don't look in the mirror every morning and see a coward who didn't have the guts to man up, like you've been telling Joel since he was 12 years old. Do the right thing."

Leavitt continued to say Thursday that he did nothing wrong. Asked if an apology were coming from him, his attorney, Wil Florin, said "Of course not. Why would he apologize for something he didn't do?"

Leavitt, 53, was fired after a university investigation concluded that he grabbed Miller by the throat and slapped him twice during halftime of a Nov. 21 home game against Louisville, lied about what happened to investigators and interfered with the investigation.

Thursday, Miller bolstered the interference finding, telling AOL sports Web site Fanhouse.com that Leavitt had arranged a meeting with him to reconcile their stories for investigators.

"He told me to bring everything that happened (during testimony with investigators) and give him everything that me and the investigators talked about and to write it all down on a piece of paper," Miller told FanHouse.

Those comments contradict Miller's previous statements, and those of his father, Paul, who had claimed that FanHouse's initial story that Leavitt had hit Joel were exaggerated and that Leavitt had only grabbed his son by the shoulder pads and done nothing wrong. Joel Miller told ESPN.com last month that Leavitt "never apologized because he had nothing to apologize for."

Miller said Thursday that those comments were lies to protect his coach, assistant coaches and team as they prepared for their Jan. 2 International Bowl appearance against Northern Illinois. "I covered it up," the 21-year-old sophomore out of Wharton High said.

Tampa attorney Eduardo A. Suarez, who is not involved with either party in the case, told the St. Petersburg Times that though Leavitt "appears to have acted inappropriately," he has little risk of losing a civil case or facing a criminal charge.

Criminal charges require proof "beyond reasonable doubt," said Suarez, a former Hillsborough prosecutor who also practices civil law. "Given what's been presented, there's minimal likelihood of a criminal charge."

Conflicting testimony would also cloud a civil case, Suarez said. More important, Miller would have to show permanent physical injury.

"If a player was struck by a coach, that's wrong," he said, "but Mr. Miller doesn't appear to me to have been very damaged. This doesn't strike me as a very valuable case."

If Leavitt did have any exposure to legal action, then the last thing he should do is weaken his position by admitting wrongdoing, Suarez said.

"Barry Cohen is a wonderfully talented lawyer and a friend," he said. "But I can't imagine any reason why any lawyer at this juncture would advise coach Leavitt to apologize. None."

Also Thursday, USF president Judy Genshaft issued a letter to Leavitt in response to a "post-termination meeting" Wednesday, stating: "I see that there is no new information that would cause the university to change its decision to terminate your employment."

Times staff writer Stephen Nohlgren contributed to this report.

Barry Cohen, lawyer for USF Bulls football player, demands apology from former coach Jim Leavitt 01/14/10 [Last modified: Friday, January 15, 2010 12:11pm]

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