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Exit wounds begin healing as former USF Bulls coach Jim Leavitt heads to San Francisco 49ers

TAMPA — It is over. Everybody wins.

The Slap Heard Round the Bay has lost its sting. The wounds opened by the noisiest, ugliest scandal in USF sports history are almost healed. From here, everyone can move along, and everyone can be happy as they go.

Rarely has closure seemed to satisfy all parties as completely as it has in the case of USF vs. Jim Leavitt vs. Joel Miller. As they say, divorce can work out sometimes, too.

After all, USF has a new football coach and a new energy.

And Miller has a new position and a new opportunity.

And, as of Wednesday, Leavitt has a new job and a second chance.

All in all, it worked out for everyone. All it took was 14 months of accusations, denials, threats, accusations of clandestine meetings, school investigations, divided loyalties and arguments over who to listen to and who to believe. Oh, and a lawsuit with a lottery-sized payout that can be interpreted as USF saying it shouldn't have fired Leavitt or that it did so in the wrong way.

None of that matters anymore. Leavitt is back in the football business, and it should be noted that the ride back from Elba was never nicer. After a season in exile, Leavitt has a good job as linebacker coach of the San Francisco 49ers, and he has a $2.75 million settlement in his bank account, and he has a great opportunity to hit the reset button on his career.

All of this is a good thing. As I've said before, even if you believe the worst of Leavitt, his punishment should not have been a lifetime sentence. Other coaches have done worse and worked again. Leavitt deserves that chance, too.

Leavitt, it should be said, doesn't see it like that. He says he is "at peace" over his departure from USF. He admits disappointment in the manner in which his tenure ended, but he doesn't go any further. He cannot, he keeps saying.

It is Wednesday night, and Leavitt sits in the lobby of a Harbour Island hotel. He says he has had other job offers, but he won't say how many or whether it involved a head coaching position. Still, he seems pleased at taking on the NFL.

As career repair goes, this is a perfect fit for Leavitt. He gets to coach Patrick Willis, perhaps the best linebacker in the game. He gets to work for a team in the weakest division in the NFL, which means quick success is possible. He's 3,000 miles away from the headlines (and columns) that seemed the meanest.

Most of all, Leavitt gets to stay in the background and coach.

They are an invisible lot, linebacker coaches. Put it this way: Do you know who Keith Butler is? Bob Babich? Jeff Weeks and Bob Sutton? The slightly more familiar Kevin Greene and Winston Moss?

Those are the linebacker coaches for the teams in this week's conference championship games (for Pittsburgh, Chicago, New York Jets and Green Bay, in that order). Yeah, it's a background job, all right.

If Leavitt is quoted at all next season — and some head coaches don't allow their assistants to talk to the media — it will probably be to say something like, "Of course Willis is the best linebacker in the NFL. Who else?" or "NaVorro Bowman just needs to play more consistently."

After Leavitt's first day on the job, no one in California is likely to bring up USF, and if they do, they're going to be talking about the University of San Francisco and what a force Bill Russell was for the basketball team back in the day.

No, Leavitt won't be head-butting his players. If he tries, there will be new evidence for the NFL's study of concussions.

No, he won't be accused of slapping anyone. If he tries, it will take a team of 12 surgeons and the jaws of life to remove the helmet from his sternum.

Look, this may not be the job of Leavitt's dreams. But as jobs go, it isn't bad. I suspect a few hundred college assistants would be willing to swap. For Leavitt, this may be stepping back, but it isn't starting over. It's certainly better than anything Mike Leach (formerly of Texas Tech) or Mark Mangino (formerly of Kansas) have landed.

From here, Leavitt can start a steady climb back up the coaching ladder. After all, Rex Ryan was once a linebackers coach. So was Bill Belichick. And Bill Parcells.

Give it enough time, and enough passion, and yes, Leavitt can be a head coach again. Heck, given California's political history, he can be governor.

Meanwhile, the USF scandal has a chance to fade away a bit more every day. That's to the benefit of all concerned, too. It no longer matters what the investigators heard and what they would not hear. It no longer matters if you think it was Leavitt or the school that paid too dearly. From here, moving on is the only option.

After all, USF seems happy with Skip Holtz.

And Miller seems satisfied he saw playing time.

And Leavitt? He's a coach again. There have been worse days.

Exit wounds begin healing as former USF Bulls coach Jim Leavitt heads to San Francisco 49ers 01/19/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 19, 2011 11:15pm]
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