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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Leavitt Out at USF

As of 12 noon on Friday, January 8, Jim Leavitt is no longer the head coach at USF. He was relieved of his duties after he was alleged to have struck a player and a university independent investigation found him responsible. I've got mixed feelings about this fact, and they stem from numerous identities and beliefs of mine, including identities as a sports fan, a Bulls fan, and a higher education professional; and beliefs regarding abuse, conduct of caretakers, helicopter parents, things held in confidence, and many more.

When the news first broke, it was from a reporter that has in the past seemed to have a bone to pick with USF's program, and the wording seemed inconsequential at best. In the original story, I believe Leavitt grabbed a player by the throat and "struck" him twice in the face. My first thought is that this would be an accurate statement if Leavitt choked and punched a player, or if he pulled him close by his pads, spoke sternly to him, and then tapped him lightly twice. I figured the truth lied somewhere in between and nothing would come of it, but it seemed the story wouldn't go away, stories were changed, others spoke up, and finally the investigation that ultimately led to the dismissal took place. I'll also note that in the investigation it came up that other actions were taken by Leavitt, including the disposal of a player's personal effects, that certainly didn't help his case any, but I will primarily address the initial actions, as it seemed that, and reactions to that, predicated the rest of the situation.

I will first state that no one deserves to be abused. Male, female, adult or child, 6'4" or 4'6". But I also believe that actions do not occur in a vacuum. Context here is key. I recall someone related to this story making the statement that if Leavitt did what he was accused of to someone on the street, he would be arrested for assault. While that may be true, it should also be noted that if one were to do what they do on a football field to someone on the street, they would be arrested for assault. Again, context is everything, and what is done among a group of men vying for a common goal in a locker room is different than many other situations. It is possible that even on the harsher side of potential actions, Leavitt should have been disciplined, but not necessarily fired.

In direct counterpoint to that argument, however, is the fact that if Leavitt did indeed act on the harsher side of what was alleged, he betrayed his role as a de facto caretaker for the young men in his charge. His role as coach goes beyond directing practices and game day activities. He is to be a leader of men and in many ways a role model, even as far as a father figure, and as such, mistreatment of the young men who depend on him for more than simply x's and o's should not be tolerated. In this sense, firing Leavitt was certainly warranted.

I'm also concerned about the fact that this became the story it did. While I stop just short of the hood maxim, "stop snitching", I do believe there are some things that should be held in confidence and, where possible, handled internally. When a member of a team or organization, I think that airing dirty laundry to outsiders leads largely to misperception and confusion that is unnecessary. While those of us who have followed the program or even watched a single game on TV have seen that Leavitt is nothing if not unorthodox, but there doesn't seem to be evidence that he's ever laid hands (headbutts, perhaps, but not hands) on a player before. If it's correct that he hasn't, I don't see why this is something that couldn't have been handled either man-to-man or as a team. I do realize that Leavitt, as the coach, did hold a position of power that may have frightened individual players as to the status of their playing time or even scholarships, but there is strength in numbers, and as it seems through the investigation that there was plenty of conversation going on between and among players and as such this very well could have been resolved through other means.

What is perhaps most disconcerting to me is that this came about, not unlike the situation with Mike Leach at Texas Tech, with plenty of parental involvement. I think it's quite indicative of the times we live in and the phenomenon of helicopter parents for the millennials that are today's college students. Again, I think it's a shame that the adults who play on the team--and while it may make a better story to speak of the "kids" on the team, each and every one is an adult--couldn't handle this directly. It's worth noting, too, that with Leach and Mark Mangino, Leavitt is the third coach to lose his job on allegations of player abuse this year. It is perhaps indicative of the times we live in. Also, an interesting fact that I don't know is of any consequence, but is worth noting: I'm currently reading Ivan Maisel's The Maisel Report, and apparently Leach and Mangino were among only a handful of Division I head coaches who had not played college ball themselves. Leavitt, however, did--I don't know what that means in terms of how he saw fit to interact with his players, however.

So where to now? USF has just lost the only coach that the football program has ever known. Leavitt built the program from the ground up, from the trailers it once occupied into a BCS program. I'll admit it's difficult to see him go under these terms, but I also think most would admit that the program to some degree had stagnated, finishing no better than 3rd in the Big East and making a habit of a mid-season slump in October that put us behind the eight ball once conference play began. I'll admit I don't mind seeing a change for those reasons, but again, I never wanted or imagined that it would happen this way. There has also been speculation that the investigation was trumped up so as to provide just cause for dismissing Leavitt without having either to make the difficult decision to pull the program's one and only coach or having to pay his contract buyout, but I choose to believe that that was not the justification behind this.

This does, however, come at the worst possible time. With National Signing Day around the corner, the recruiting game is more important now than ever, and we currently only have an interim head coach, Carl Franks, the running backs coach. We also face the toughest year in Bulls history this coming football season: We play out of conference games at Miami and at Florida, and in the Big East, we travel to West Virginia and Cincinnati, as well as Louisville, where we've never won, with Charlie Strong at the helm. For these reasons, as well as overall stability, I hope there is a decision soon. One of the concerns is that whoever we bring in won't have the same ties or commitment to the program that Coach Leavitt did, but hopefully we can bring in a winner. Best of luck to Leavitt for whatever the future may bring, and certainly all the best to the Bulls.
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