Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Veteran coaches backing Leavitt

USF’s Jim Leavitt is accused of striking a player; one area high school coach says he has already heard competing schools drop hints about the accusations in recruiting.


USF’s Jim Leavitt is accused of striking a player; one area high school coach says he has already heard competing schools drop hints about the accusations in recruiting.

TAMPA — The calls have come from both sides of the bay, high school coaches reaching out to Jim Leavitt to show support as the university investigates allegations the USF coach grabbed a player by the throat and hit him in the face twice during halftime of a game last month.

"I've gotten a lot of calls from coaches with encouragement, and the outpouring, it means a lot to me," Leavitt, 53, said. "I try not to worry as best I can. You worry about the things you can control, so you focus on the next day, the next practice."

Leavitt has denied the accusations made in an online report that he hit one of his players. The player, walk-on running back Joel Miller, and his father have said publicly that Leavitt did not hit him and should not be punished. But the accusations made Monday in a report from AOL sports site have made the only football coach in USF's history suddenly vulnerable.

"He told me, 'I didn't do anything wrong. I know it in my heart,' but when you go through something like this, you have to be scared to death," said Country­side coach John Davis, who has known Leavitt for more than 35 years, since their days as quarterbacks at Dixie Hollins High in St. Petersburg. "I don't know what happened, but he grew up next door to me. We haven't always seen eye to eye on everything, but I'd like to throw my support behind Jim. I don't want to see him go down like this."

And Davis said Leavitt does worry, and Davis and others worry for him.

“There's not many coaches that could withstand someone coming into their locker room saying you can come to us anonymously, anything that's ever happened, let us hear about the coach," Davis said.

Hillsborough High coach Earl Garcia, a USF graduate who has seen several of his players go on to play for the Bulls, said he doesn't believe Leavitt could raise a hand against a player, even in the intense emotion of a close game.

"I really can't see Coach Leavitt doing that, and I've been doing this longer than Jim has," Garcia said. "You get angry at players, but if he did anything at all, it was motivational. I just don't see it."

With a steady parade of recruiters from other schools on his campus, Garcia said he already has heard coaches from other schools raising questions with his players about Leavitt and the allegations against him.

"They're using it against USF," Garcia said. "They'll preface it by saying, 'I don't want to negatively recruit or anything, but. …' "

The St. Petersburg Times has reached several current players by phone but all have declined to comment, saying they didn't want to get involved or didn't want to speak about the issue. One player, sophomore safety Jerrell Young, wrote on that the allegations were "crazy" and "overblown," and that he stands by Leavitt: "I love my coach and all my coaches for that matter."

Former players, too, have spoken up about Leavitt. Center Nick Capogna, who last played for USF in 2007, said Thursday that Leavitt made it through far more stressful situations without ever striking a player.

"I played for him for five years, and I've seen him deal with some pretty bad plays and players, myself included, but he never came close to that," Capogna said. "I don't see it happening. I've seen him frustrated in much bigger games than Louisville, so why now of all times to do this? I find it hard to believe."

What will determine Leavitt's future are the players and coaches in that locker room on Nov. 21 and what they're saying to investigators. Did they see Leavitt hit Miller, as has been alleged, or did he grab the player by his shoulder pads, as the coach has maintained?

"Even if you won a national championship, there's a lot of malcontents that still think they didn't get enough playing time, that you yell at them too much," Garcia said. "If you dig far enough in any locker room, you'll find someone to say something negative like that."

Leavitt has made his case in the Times and said he has spoken with athletic director Doug Woolard and USF president Judy Genshaft, the two people who convened the investigation and will ultimately receive their findings and decide what to do from there, perhaps in the next few days.

"I certainly told (Woolard) and the president, made it clear to them," Leavitt said. "And you haven't heard about anything like this before this came up. Fourteen years of credibility you'd hope would be worth something."

Times writer Greg Auman can be reached at and at (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at and follow him at

Veteran coaches backing Leavitt 12/18/09 [Last modified: Saturday, December 19, 2009 12:12am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Late Holy Names swimmer Cailin Cannella was a fighter until the end

    Swimming Preps

    At swim meets, Cailin Cannella would race side-by-side with her breastroke competitors, their heads bobbing in near unison.

    Holy Names swimmer Cailin Cannella, here at age 13, still was practicing last year after finding out she had osteosarcoma (bone cancer). [Times 2016]
  2. Gators roundtable: Was that really a Hail Mary?


    Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks' last-second heave beat Tennessee Saturday in Gainesville, but was it a Hail Mary, typically a pass made in desperation with little chance of success? The Times' college football coveage team weighs in:


    Feleipe Franks #13 of the Florida Gators celebrates with his teammates after he threw a 63-yard pass at the end of the game to defeat the Tennessee Volunteers 26-20 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 16, 2017 in Gainesville, Florida.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
  3. Mikhail Sergachev to debut for Lightning tonight


    For touted prospect Mikhail Sergachev, his audition to make the Lightning takes another big step tonight in his exhibition debut in Carolina.

    Touted prospect Mikhail Sergachev will make his exhibition debut tonight in Carolina.
  4. Commitment to change already evident for Wesley Chapel


    WESLEY CHAPEL — One stands 6 feet 9, holds numerous college offers and has already verbally committed to play at Florida State. The other goes about a foot shorter and could stand to put on a few pounds.

    Wesley Chapel's Chaz Neal (60) pumps his team up before a football game against Land O' Lakes in Wesley Chapel, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017.
  5. Rick and Tom podcast: Annoyance with the Cubs fans at Tropicana Field

    The Heater

    Tom Jones talks about how he shares Chris Archer's annoyance with all of the Cubs fans at Tropicana Field for Joe Maddon's return in the latest edition of our Rick and Tom podcast.

    "W" flags fly in the stands after the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Rays Tuesday at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]