TAMPA — Attorneys for USF and former Bulls football coach Jim Leavitt met for nearly six hours in mediation Saturday, though no resolution has been reached between the university and its coach of 14 years, his attorney said Monday.
Leavitt was fired by USF on Jan. 8, after the university concluded that "serious violations" of its conduct code had occurred when an investigation ruled that Leavitt grabbed walk-on Joel Miller by the throat and slapped him twice in the face during halftime of USF's Nov. 21 game against Louisville, then lied to investigators and interfered with USF's investigation into the incident.
USF has moved on, with new coach Skip Holtz now on the job more than a month, but Leavitt's attorneys argue that the three-week investigation, which included interviews with 29 people, was not thorough enough.
"USF represented to the entire nation that their investigation was 'fair and thorough,' " attorney Wil Florin said Monday. "Suppressing the full eyewitness account of an on-duty law enforcement officer favorable to Coach Leavitt is not fair. Not interviewing and then ignoring the eyewitness account of another eyewitness only a few feet away (Mike Durakovic) is not thorough."
Florin has a sworn statement from Florida Highway Patrol officer Benny Perez, who was in the locker room and saw the incident while working security for USF.
"I witnessed Coach Leavitt grab Miller's shoulder pads and attempt to motivate him. Coach Leavitt did not grab Miller's neck nor did he choke or strike Miller," Perez says in his statement, which is a stronger defense of the coach than what was summarized from him in the report from USF's investigation.
Leavitt's attorneys cite that as contrary to what USF athletic director Doug Woolard said in announcing Leavitt's firing, that the coach's account was "uncorroborated by credible witnesses." Durakovic, the parent of a USF player and volunteer with the team, also said he was there and defended Leavitt but was not interviewed by the university's investigation.
Will the continuing legal discussions between the two sides result in any settlement? Leavitt's attorneys are seeking more than the $66,667 contractually obligated to him for being fired "with cause." Had Leavitt been fired "without cause," he would have been paid more than $7.1 million, or 75 percent of what he would have made in the remaining five years on his contract.
USF spokeswoman Lara Wade declined to comment, citing Florida's statutory rules regarding mediation.