Leavitt to return to Tampa with 49ers

Jim Leavitt, right, speaks with 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith during a preseason game against the Chargers.
Jim Leavitt, right, speaks with 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith during a preseason game against the Chargers.
Published Dec. 12, 2013

TAMPA — Former USF coach Jim Leavitt will be on the sideline at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday for the first time in more than four years. But the 49ers' linebackers coach said he's enjoying the NFL enough not to worry too much about the past or present of Bulls football.

"You're focused on the 49ers," said Leavitt, USF's first coach who was fired Jan. 8, 2010, after being accused of slapping a player during halftime of a game. "You don't look back: 'Oh, I wish they were doing better or not better.' I try not to get into that world. That's somebody else's program. I don't have anything to do with it now."

Leavitt, whose last home game for USF came Nov. 28, 2009, received $2.75 million from the school in a settlement after his firing. He did not coach in 2010. On Jan. 19, 2011, the 49ers hired Leavitt to join the staff of new coach Jim Harbaugh. In his first two seasons, San Francisco lost in the NFC title game and in the Super Bowl. On Sunday, it can clinch a playoff berth if it wins and gets help.

Meanwhile, since winning eight games in its first season under Skip Holtz, USF has struggled, going from five wins in 2011 to three in 2012 to two this fall under first-year coach Willie Taggart (who might attend Sunday's game as Harbaugh's friend).

Leavitt said he has kept tabs on USF and watched games when possible — he recruited this season's redshirt seniors — and he has kept in touch with players including defensive ends Ryne Giddins and Julius Forte, defensive tackle Luke Sager, safeties Mark Joyce and JaQuez Jenkins and center Austin Reiter.

"I've kind of tried to encourage them a little bit. I know it's been a tough year for them," said Leavitt, who went 95-57 in 13 seasons with the Bulls. "The time I had there was really special; was great. I really enjoyed it. I never dreamed in my wildest dreams that I'd have this opportunity. I couldn't have written a better story line. I always wanted to coach in the NFL."

Leavitt, who graduated from Dixie Hollins High in St. Petersburg, also is excited about coming back to Tampa on a personal level. He secured about 25 tickets for relatives and friends, including daughter DeAndra, a senior at Northside Christian.

"The neatest thing is just being able to see my family," said Leavitt, whose parents still live in St. Petersburg and whose brother and sister and their families live within two hours of Tampa. "There's all kinds of aunts and uncles, nephews, nieces, the whole deal."

Harbaugh said Wednesday that Leavitt has been well-received by his players and fellow coaches because of his dedication and unselfishness.

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"He's a great teammate. He's about the team," he said. "(There are) many qualities he showers us with daily: enthusiasm, hard work and intelligence."

Sunday's game also will be another Big East reunion. Leavitt lost his final four games to Rutgers and current Bucs coach Greg Schiano. Schiano faced former Syracuse coach Doug Marrone and the Bills last weekend.

Leavitt said he won't spend much time thinking about old rivalries.

"We had a lot more success against Doug Marrone than we did against Greg Schiano," he said of his USF teams. "We certainly had more success against Rich Rodriguez (at West Virginia) than Schiano had against Rich Rodriguez."

Leavitt, 57, said he doesn't know where his coaching path will go next. He doesn't rule out returning to college football for the right situation, though he loves working in the NFL, where offseasons give him more time with his family.

"I've had, just recently again, some chances to go to D-I schools," he said. "But I'm not going to leave this unless it's something clearly that I need to do. I don't know if that opportunity will come or not. I'm just enjoying what I'm doing, and you couldn't ask for a better place to live."