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Former USF Bulls football coach Jim Leavitt deserves to coach again

So Jim Leavitt wants to coach again, does he?

Less than three weeks after being fired by USF, and less than 10 weeks after the controversy that led to it, Leavitt wants to go back to work. He wants another team. He wants a different set of players. He wants another chance.

Well, here's what I have to say to that:

Fine.

And if Leavitt needs a letter of recommendation, well, consider this column to be one. Just stamp "To Whom It May Concern" on top and pass it along.

Yes, Leavitt screwed up. Despite the consistency of his denials, and the volume, most of us believe that by now. The investigation was thorough enough, the witnesses were plentiful enough, and Joel Miller's descriptions were believable enough. Unless you let a lot of conspiracies run loose, and unless you call a lot of people liars, it's hard to believe anything else.

Even if you believe the worst of Leavitt, however, should his punishment be a lifetime sentence away from his chosen profession? Of course not.

When Leavitt showed up at the Senior Bowl on Tuesday in Mobile, Ala., and said he wanted to coach again, the first thought that struck me was: "Well, of course he does. What else would he do? Sell cars? Open a restaurant? Become the new spokesman for the ShamWow?"

The second thought was this: Will anyone give him the chance?

It can be a strange world these days, one where critics become hanging judges and controversy turns into a stink bomb and everyone else ducks for cover. The last thing some college athletic directors — or some NFL general managers — want to deal with is someone else's scandal. After all, why staple a troubled man's resume to your own?

On the other hand, Leavitt isn't the first coach to need a second chance, either. Barry Switzer once ran an Oklahoma program where the fight song was Lawyers, Guns and Money, and he got another job. Isiah Thomas was once convicted of sexual harassment, and he got another job. Bob Knight was accused of cuffing a player, and he got another job. You can rank their transgressions if you wish, but Jackie Sherrill and John Calipari and Todd Bozeman and Rick Neuheisel and Kelvin Sampson and all the rest have found work.

Leavitt should, too. After all, the guy has already been stripped of the job he wanted the most. Isn't that punishment enough?

By now, most of us have read the USF report a couple of times, we've heard the lawyers lob their demands toward each other, and we've debated this until our throats were sore. We all have our opinions on what happened between Leavitt and Miller.

Here's what I believe. At halftime of the Louisville game, I think Leavitt was frustrated from watching a two-touchdown lead turn into a one-point game. I think he wanted to fire up his team. And I think he crossed the line and slapped Miller as the investigation says.

I don't think he was trying to hurt Miller. I don't think he was trying to belittle him. And I don't think he was right in doing so. As bad as the act was, I don't think the intent was evil. Again, this is only an opinion, and again, Leavitt denies it.

After that, I think Leavitt was tap-dancing for his job. And Leavitt's actions during the investigation may bother some athletic directors as much as the incident itself.

And despite all of those beliefs, I still think Leavitt should be hired again.

So where should he work? In my mind, there are three scenarios that seem to work.

First of all, there is the NFL. It would be easy enough to hide Leavitt on a pro staff as, say, a linebackers coach or a defensive backs coach. After all, some NFL head coaches never allow their assistants to talk. Sure, there would be a headline or two when Leavitt was hired, but it wouldn't last long. The head coach doing the hiring could even crack a joke and say, "We know that won't happen here, because the last guy to try to slap Shawne Merriman lost an arm."

Then there is big-time college football. The right coach — Joe Paterno, Bob Stoops, Mack Brown, etc. — could withstand the criticism with the strength of his own character. Leavitt could repeat his denials, and he could spend Saturdays in the coaches' booth instead of charging up and down the sideline. And the controversy would eventually pass.

If that doesn't work out, then there is the perfect job for Leavitt. It's as the first head coach of the UNC-Charlotte 49ers, a this-program-under-construction team that will begin play in 2013. (Three other schools are beginning their football programs, too, but Georgia State, Lamar and Texas-San Antonio already have head coaches.)

For Leavitt, 53, that would be the perfect starting-over point. Once again, he'd get to build a program from the ground up. After his success, why, he could do it with both hands tied behind his back, which, if you think about it, isn't the worst idea anyone ever had.

If sports teach us nothing else, it is this: time passes, controversies fade, wounds heal. No one should begrudge USF for moving on, or for Leavitt as he tries to do the same.

Yeah, for the right job, I'd hire Leavitt.

Someone ought to.

Former USF Bulls football coach Jim Leavitt deserves to coach again 01/27/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 27, 2010 9:17pm]
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