TAMPA — Jim Leavitt has been coaching football at USF for 13 seasons, but never before has he taken the opportunity to make fun of an opposing athletic director's height.
"Guy's about 5-9. He'll say 5-10," Leavitt said of Miami athletic director Kirby Hocutt. "He weighed about 190, and he beefed up to a strong 206."
Leavitt can speak with affection about Hocutt, who played linebacker under him for four years at Kansas State, graduating in 1995.
"When we had some of those great defenses at Kansas State, Kirby was real instrumental in those defenses," Leavitt said. "He was such a hard worker, so focused, and really a good football player, a great leader. … He's one of the most impressive people you'll ever meet. We're very close. I think the world of Kirby and couldn't say enough good things about him."
Hocutt, 38, returns the admiration, saying that Leavitt showed him the ability to get as much as possible out of undersized, often overmatched players.
"You won't find any coach in the country that has more energy and is more intense than Coach Leavitt," Hocutt said. "I have so many great memories and friendships from those five years that have obviously had a strong impact on me, who I am today as a person, as a leader. I'm not the least bit surprised with the success he's had at South Florida."
Hocutt was working for the NCAA in 1998 when he came to Tampa for a site visit leading up to the 1999 Final Four in St. Petersburg. He stopped by USF's campus to see Leavitt, who had just completed his second season with the Bulls.
"He walked me around the campus, and his vision for what that would be someday, where they were going to build a football support facility and locker room, it was so exciting," Hocutt said.
Reunited: Speaking of familiar faces, tonight in the Sun Dome, men's basketball coach Stan Heath gets his first chance to coach against Kent State, the school that gave him his first head coaching job in 2001. The Golden Flashes went 30-6 his first season, reaching the NCAA Elite Eight, but he left after one season to become coach at Arkansas.
"There's a part of me inside that didn't necessarily want to play Kent State but has a true affection for Kent State," Heath said. "I thought if I can give back a little bit, because they gave me so much, we go back there the following year, it'll be a nice thing. … It's a great memory, something I'm really proud about."
The Bulls are 4-1, matching the team's best five-game record since 2002, the last year USF played in the postseason.
Attendance: Football season ticket sales were down about 13 percent from last year, but USF's home attendance — announced and actual — is up from 2008, and that's before a boost from Saturday's sold-out final home game against Miami.
The average announced attendance for USF's five home games so far is 49,770, barely up from 49,690 last season. Those figures are based on the number of tickets distributed, but when you check the actual attendance — the turnstile count recorded by the Tampa Sports Authority — USF's actual average is 38,301, up about 2 percent from 37,598 a year ago.
Greg Auman can be reached at email@example.com and at (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/usf and follow him at Twitter.com/gregauman.