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Jim Leavitt attended USF’s hall of fame banquet. Could induction be close behind?

The relationship between the university and its ex-football coach appears to be mending.
Former Bulls football coach Jim Leavitt built the program from scratch and led the team its first 13 seasons before his dismissal in January 2010.
Former Bulls football coach Jim Leavitt built the program from scratch and led the team its first 13 seasons before his dismissal in January 2010.
Published Nov. 11|Updated Nov. 11

In one of the more eventful weeks in USF sports history, another highly significant development unfolded Thursday evening, inside a spacious banquet hall.

As the three newest members of the USF Athletic Hall of Fame — including record-setting quarterback Quinton Flowers — formally were inducted, an evening that delivered poignance and plaudits also delivered possibility.

Jim Leavitt, the most successful and controversial coach in Bulls football history, was among the attendees at the Sheraton Tampa Riverwalk.

Could he soon become one of the inductees?

“I genuinely hope so,” said prominent USF booster Jeff Fishman, whose lead gift led to the construction of the Fishman Family Student-Athlete Enrichment Center.

Leavitt, whose notorious dismissal from USF (and ensuing wrongful-termination lawsuit) left him estranged from the program he created for more than a decade, showed up Thursday to honor the man who hired him, former Bulls athletic director Paul Griffin.

Griffin, among the trio of inductees, mentioned Leavitt during his speech. So did current athletic director Michael Kelly. By several accounts, Leavitt received a highly positive reception, arriving early and staying afterward to mingle.

All of which begs the question of whether a once-icy relationship has thawed enough for Leavitt, who built the program from scratch and led it to a No. 2 Bowl Championship Series (BCS) ranking in 2007, to follow his former boss into the hall.

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.

If Thursday night’s proceedings are any sign, Leavitt’s standing within the USF community is no longer wobbly; far from it. And while the conduct/citizenship part can be deliberated ad nauseum, the fact remains he coached at five other Division I-A programs — all of which presumably vetted him — following his exit from USF.

Naturally, Leavitt’s appearance Thursday will fuel speculation he’s in the running to replace Jeff Scott — fired as football coach on Sunday — and potentially resuscitate the program into which he breathed life more than a quarter-century ago. All indications suggest that’s not happening.

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But today, he seems far closer to being granted a hall pass than ever.

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls

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