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USF settles ex-coach Jim Leavitt's lawsuit for $2.75 million

TAMPA — One year and three days after Jim Leavitt was fired, USF reached a settlement with its former football coach, paying him $2.75 million to resolve the wrongful termination suit he filed after his run as the Bulls' only head coach abruptly ended.

The settlement, announced Tuesday night by USF and Leavitt's attorney, Wil Florin, includes $2 million for "salary and benefits" as well as a payment of $750,000 "acknowledging Coach Leavitt's contributions to building USF's nationally respected football program." USF said in its release that "non-state resources" will be used to pay for the settlement.

"I'm grateful for the love and support of my family and all of the great people of Tampa Bay," Leavitt said in a statement. "I will always cherish my time at USF and what we built here together."

With more than 50 depositions planned by Leavitt's attorney, the lawsuit would likely have carried into this fall, but the settlement could clear the way for him to return to college coaching. There has been speculation that he could return to Kansas State, where he was an assistant for six seasons before coming to USF in 1995, to join the staff of 71-year-old Bill Snyder and eventually replace him as head coach after his retirement.

"Things will be cleared up soon enough," Leavitt said by phone Tuesday night when asked about the possibility of coaching at Kansas State.

Leavitt, 54, had sought as much as $7.1 million from what was remaining on his contract, but the settlement is considerably more than the $66,000 he was paid after a USF investigation found he committed "serious violations" of the school's conduct policy and was fired "with cause."

Leavitt was accused of grabbing walk-on Joel Miller by the throat and striking him twice in the face during halftime of a game against Louisville in November 2009, as well as interfering with USF's investigation; he has vehemently denied all the charges against him.

A week after his firing, USF replaced Leavitt with former East Carolina coach Skip Holtz, who led the Bulls to an 8-5 record in his first season, including the program's first win against Miami and a bowl win against Clemson.

Leavitt was USF's coach for the program's first 13 seasons, taking the Bulls from Division I-AA to Conference USA then the Big East in 2005, reaching as high as No. 2 in the national polls during the 2007 season. He finished with a 95-57 record as USF's head coach.

Leavitt has been out of coaching for the past year, his focus instead on his wife, Jody, and their 6-month-old daughter, Sofia.

When Leavitt initially filed the suit, he sought only to get his old job back, but the fine print of his settlement makes it clear that will never happen. The settlement stipulates that Leavitt cannot apply for any job at USF "in any capacity," and that if he does, USF "is free to reject and disregard it."

Leavitt's settlement is comparable to the $3 million that Kansas agreed to pay in December 2009 to coach Mark Mangino, who was accused of mistreating his players. Mangino had $9.2 million left on his contract at the time; Leavitt had $9.5 million remaining and was entitled to 75 percent of that had he been fired "without cause," by his contract.

As part of the agreement, neither side is allowed to comment on the matter, and the settlement states that it should not be "construed as an admission by USF or Leavitt of any liability, wrongdoing or unlawful conduct whatsoever."

USF settles ex-coach Jim Leavitt's lawsuit for $2.75 million 01/11/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 11, 2011 11:22pm]
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