Jim Leavitt is on trial. So, too, is his reputation, and his program, and his university.
The headlines read like the verdict from a jury. Leavitt has been accused of assault. He has been called a bully. He has been portrayed as a tyrant so out of control he has struck one of his own players.
No matter how vigorously Leavitt protests his innocence, and no matter how determined the player's father seems to be to back away from the story, the damage has been done. A lot of people are always going to believe the allegations more than the explanations.
Here, then, is what Leavitt must do.
He must urge — no, demand — that USF conduct the most thorough, the most independent investigation in the history of the school. He must insist that every coach, every player, every possible witness be interviewed by the administrators. If it takes polygraphs and bloodhounds, he must insist on that, too.
At this point, only a vigorous, determined investigation will convince everyone that Leavitt's side of the story is the truth.
And at this point, only such a truth can clear Leavitt's name.
"I think it's great they're looking into this,'' Leavitt said Tuesday. "I think it's wonderful. It protects everyone. I don't have anything to hide.''
The words tumble out of Leavitt fast and forcefully, as if he cannot deny the allegations quickly enough. It has been a day since the story broke on AOL Fanhouse that accused him of striking walk-on Joel Miller. Already, it has built into the largest crisis of Leavitt's coaching career. It is among the worst allegations anyone can make, and it has come during recruiting season, one of the worst possible times.
"I have never hit anyone,'' Leavitt said. "I've grabbed players. I've grabbed them to get their attention. I've slapped a guy on the leg or on the butt like, 'Come on, let's go.' I've head-butted. But to hit them? No.''
Is that the truth? Let's find out. Who can argue against the truth? Whether your instincts tell you Leavitt is a victim here or a villain, whether you think the Fanhouse story is an expose or an embellishment, whether you cheer for the Bulls or make sport of those who do, the truth is all that should matter.
That, and how determined those in charge of the investigation are to find it.
In some ways, this scandal is going to tell us as much about USF's administration as it tells us about Leavitt. Faced with controversy, a lot of college administrators have been less interested in uncovering the facts than in covering them up. The prevailing logic is to let things blow over rather than allow them to blow up. Like knowledge, too little investigation is a dangerous thing.
In the case of USF, we will see.
This is where Judy Genshaft, the president, needs to take charge. She needs to make sure this controversy is not treated lightly. She needs to expand the investigation beyond the athletic department. After all, when you boil this down, it is a case of a teacher being accused of striking a student. In a case like that, you cannot talk to enough potential witnesses.
This is also where Silent Doug Woolard, the athletic director, needs to speak up. Who else should be the voice of the Bulls? Yet, when the basketball team was accused of improprieties recently, you didn't hear a peep from Woolard. Now, there is another scandal, and still, you haven't heard a sound from him. Since when does the athletic director of a public university stay silent as the allegations against a program mount? Since when isn't the guy in charge available for answers?
Can you imagine being the parent of a potential USF recruit today? Wouldn't you have a few questions? Wouldn't you want to be assured that a coach wouldn't slap your kid? Yeah, you would want to know the truth. The same is true for an alumnus with his diploma on the wall or a fan with his face painted green or a player wearing shoulder pads.
Let's agree on this. This is not a small allegation, and this is not an example of tough love or how players have grown soft in the modern era. There is no reason — none — for any coach to punch or slap any player. That's not coaching. That's abuse.
So should a coach who strikes a player be fired? Any coach?
"I don't want to go into that,'' Leavitt said. "You can't just say a generalization. What happens if a coach pokes or tugs? What if he swats hard on the a--?
"All I can talk about is everything I do. I know I have not done any wrong. In my heart, everything was to motivate in a positive way.''
Is that the truth? Let's find out. No one should want that any more than a coach who insists he has been falsely accused.
After all, college is a place to find the answers, isn't it?