Light Rain76° WeatherLight Rain76° Weather

Former USF Bulls coach Jim Leavitt remains on the sideline

TAMPA — A season of college football has come and gone since Jim Leavitt was fired as USF's coach. Yet there isn't a tremble of urgency in his voice as he talks about the time line for his return.

"I have not pursued anything," Leavitt said this week as another year's coaching carousel quickly picked up speed with high-profile openings nearby at Florida and Miami. "I know I'm going to be back working. It's just a matter of time. I haven't asked anybody to make any calls for me. I'm not thinking about it. When the right thing comes along, I'll know it."

It has been decades since Leavitt had any extended time away from football. But the past 11 months have given him time with his wife, Jody, and 5-month-old daughter, Sofia Alexis. On Sunday he celebrated his 52nd birthday at Epcot with his family, admitting he doesn't know all of the names of the Disney characters he stood in line to meet.

"I'm really enjoying my time with Sofia. It's really been special — that's my world," said Leavitt, USF's inaugural coach who said he didn't take a vacation during his first 11 seasons, relenting to a single week off each summer after getting married in 2007.

Leavitt and two other head coaches who lost their jobs after last season because of off-field incidents — Kansas' Mark Mangino and Texas Tech's Mike Leach — have not resurfaced. The questions: Where will they land? How far in stature will they fall from their previous job? And must they spend time as an assistant before being given the keys to a program?

"Will it be a start-up program again? Will it be a BCS program? I don't know," said Leavitt, who spent 13 seasons at USF, winning 95 games as it moved from I-AA to I-A to the Big East to No. 2 in the national rankings in 2007.

Leavitt still denies the circumstances of his firing — a USF investigation found he grabbed walk-on Joel Miller by the throat and twice hit him in the face during halftime of a Nov. 21, 2009, game against Louisville, then interfered with the school's investigation.

His wrongful termination suit against USF, which seeks as much as $7 million, has been in hearings for months and might not go to a jury until late next year. The lawsuit and fear of future litigation are additional obstacles to his future employment.

Leavitt still has strong connections in the world of college athletics.

He has been mentioned as a potential candidate at Miami, whose athletic director, Kirby Hocutt, played for Leavitt while he was an assistant at Kansas State in the early 1990s. Chris Peterson, the AD at Arkansas-Little Rock, was an athletic department official at Kansas State while Leavitt was there and said he has gotten calls from schools looking into hiring him.

"As I told them, if I needed a football coach, I would hire Jim Leavitt yesterday," said Peterson, whose school does not field a football team. "I can't say enough good things about Jim Leavitt; his passion for the game, his care and concern about the student-athlete.

"In my chair, you're dealing with people's most prized possession, their children. The Jim Leavitt I know loves his players, has an enormous amount of confidence. And there's nobody that's going to outwork him. I'm hopeful that as the dust settles, Jim will be back on the sidelines. He deserves to be."

Paul Griffin, the athletic director who hired Leavitt at USF, now is the associate AD at Georgia Tech and remains a firm supporter of him.

"I can't imagine that people that have an opportunity to hire a coach at any level wouldn't give Jim serious consideration in light of all the successes he's had as a football coach," Griffin said. "He'll have choices at all levels, as an assistant, a coordinator, a head coach. I've had people talk to me about Jim for nearly a year now as it relates to his next step."

You could compare Leavitt with former Iowa State basketball coach Larry Eustachy, who resigned in 2003 after pictures surfaced showing him drinking with younger women at college parties. After a year out of coaching, he landed at Southern Mississippi, where he won 20 games last season and is 5-1 this season.

The man who hired Eustachy, athletic director Richard Giannini, said he felt comfortable hiring him.

"Under normal circumstances, we wouldn't have been able to get a coach of that caliber; a quality coach who had been to the Elite Eight," Giannini said. "He was ready to get back, wanted to be successful, and I developed a trust with him during the process. I'm sure that will be the same situation in Jim's case."

Administrators who have worked with Leavitt, such as Illinois State athletic director Sheahon Zenger, who was part of Leavitt's first staff in 1996, said their counterparts will be aware of the circumstances that led to his firing but will evaluate his career as a whole.

"That body of work is very, very strong," Zenger said.

"It's about fit; where his body of work lines up with the needs of a particular institution; where his personality aligns itself with the administration and fan base."

Greg Auman can be reached at auman@sptimes.com

Former USF Bulls coach Jim Leavitt remains on the sideline 12/10/10 [Last modified: Friday, December 10, 2010 11:42pm]

© 2014 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...