Turbulence in Tampa: USF's Jim Leavitt Accused of Hitting Player

(Update: SbB notes this report by Greg Auman of the St. Petersburg Times, which has the father of Joel Miller saying things wholly different from the quotes McMurphy has.)

I had my fun with an egg-on-the-face issue for the University of South Florida over the weekend. If what Brett McMurphy of FanHouse is reporting about coach Jim Leavitt striking walk-on Joel Miller is accurate, that's definitely the least of USF's problems.

⇥According to the five witnesses -- USF players and staff members -- Leavitt was pacing in the Raymond James Stadium locker room at halftime when he walked about 10 feet to the locker where Miller was sitting without his helmet. Leavitt then grabbed Miller by the throat and hit him twice in the face with his hand.⇥⇥⇥

⇥"You do something like that [on the street], you put them in jail," Paul Miller, Joel's father and a former Tampa police officer, told FanHouse. "Somewhere [Leavitt] crossed the line."⇥

"Crossed the line" would be a bit of an understatement for striking another person in the face.

Leavitt's fiery streak is well-documented, from a high-volume response to Nick Saban to taking "anger" from a loss to some harsh retribution for one of his coaches for interviewing for another job.

Oh, and then there was this report of Leavitt emerging from the locker room for a postgame press conference after the same November 21st game against Louisville with a bloody nose. Players said then that it was because he headbutted a helmeted player, and it was laughed off as a bit of Leavitt's legendary intensity. 

Combine that with the the allegations McMurphy raises in this piece -- multiple witnesses saying Leavitt said "Before you say anything, just know I am the most powerful man in this building" to Miller when he met with Leavitt after the incident, a player saying Leavitt "knew he could do something like that and Joel wouldn't fight back," and a witness holding that it was grounds for dismissal -- and it certainly seems a little starker, and certainly raises uncomfortable questions about what happened in that locker room. 

Did Leavitt headbutt one player after laying hands on another? Did no player think to mention this incident while being queried about Leavitt's bloody nose? Was there some sort of cover-up in play to transform a potentially explosive story into an anecdote about Leavitt's fire? 

And, most importantly, does this mean Leavitt's job is in jeopardy?

Leavitt's the only football coach USF has ever had, and his team has soared far further and faster than most had expected. His Bulls climbed to second in the BCS standings in 2007 and upset Florida State this season. His on-field bona fides, as the architect of a team that has mushroomed from nothing to perennial BCS conference contender in a little more than a decade, are about as unassailable as coaches' resumes get, relative to station.

But the darker side of Leavitt's tenure is his temper, and that is what produces ugly situations like this. If this is true, the fiefdom Leavitt has built in Tampa may soon be without a czar.


This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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