In his first year of eligibility, even as traces of the vapor trails he famously created still waft in the Raymond James Stadium stratosphere, Quinton Flowers is headed to the USF Athletic Hall of Fame.
And precisely no one with a molecule of Bulls bias is likely to argue his selection. Many insist that Flowers, owner of more than 40 school records and the state’s first Division I-A quarterback to pass for 2,000 yards and run for 1,000 in a season, should have had his No. 9 jersey retired in the immediate wake of his historic performance (605 total yards) in 2017 at UCF.
But while Flowers, who completely altered the trajectory of the Willie Taggart era (not to mention Taggart’s career), remains the most prominent of the 2022 hall-of-fame inductees, he’s not the most significant.
That distinction belongs to former athletic director Paul Griffin, for one potentially transformative reason.
Not because the football program was conceived and launched on his 15-year watch. Not because the Bulls won 63 conference titles in various sports during his tenure. Not because he made program-altering hires such as Lee Roy Selmon and Ken Eriksen and Jose Fernandez.
Rather, Griffin’s entry into the school’s athletic shrine might — might — crack its door ajar just enough for Jim Leavitt to finally enter.
After all, Griffin performed ground-breaking work at the school, helped propel USF to the national stage, and endeared himself to much of the fan base before being forced out amid ugly circumstances by a prior administration in a prior era.
Sound familiar? Leavitt supporters would nod in the affirmative.
“I think Jim should be allowed to be in the hall of fame,” said NFL alumnus Mark Robinson, USF’s radio play-by-play voice for the program’s first 21 seasons. “He most definitely contributed to getting the team to that level.”
So if Griffin’s going in, why not the architect — and most successful coach — of the most school’s most prominent program?
Nuance, for one, as well as litigation, honesty and perhaps pride.
To refresh: Griffin, still one of the most-admired athletic directors in program history, was forced out in March 2001 because of accusations he suppressed an internal investigation of racial discrimination complaints within the women’s basketball program.
The school fired the women’s coach (Jerry Ann Winters) and ultimately agreed to a $300,000 legal settlement, but an independent investigator’s report essentially cleared Griffin of any wrongdoing. Griffin never sued the school, and even phoned a number of Bulls coaches to assuage their anger and anxiety over his exit.
Moreover, he was serving as a senior athletics administrator at Georgia Tech when that school agreed to a two-year, home-and-home football series with the Bulls in 2014.
Leavitt’s departure in January 2010 was far more acrimonious.
He was fired with cause after 13 seasons when an investigation concluded that he grabbed a player by the throat, slapped him twice and lied to investigators about the incident. A couple months later, he filed a lawsuit against USF in an effort to clear his name and recoup roughly $7 million of the contract extension he had signed in 2008.
He ultimately reached a settlement (and confidentiality agreement) with the school but hasn’t reappeared on campus and remains a controversial — if not polarizing — figure in some USF circles. Two current Board of Trustees members were contacted for their thoughts on Leavitt’s hall-of-fame candidacy. Neither responded.
If Leavitt and USF can somehow reconcile, the stage appears set — more than ever — for the school’s hall of fame to resolve its most glaring omission.
USF’s web site indicates hall-of-fame candidacy for coaches or administrators is based on their achievements while serving at USF. “Consideration will also be given to a candidate being in good standing in regards to their conduct and citizenship,” the site says.
The hang-up, of course, is the conduct/citizenship stipulation as it pertains to Leavitt’s final days at the school. Since then, however, he has served on one NFL staff (49ers) and at five other Division I-A programs without incident. As for his achievements with the Bulls, Leavitt, 65, has long since met that prerequisite.
Now, he has a precedent — in Paul Griffin’s looming induction.
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