Some Stuff About Me:

My photo
I'm a Minnesota Girl, living in the south. I tell my friends I try not to talk and think like a Yankee, but sometimes I slip up!

Monday, January 11, 2010


The darker side of football includes the ego of those who are raised up by their activities in the sport and who lose perspective of what is right and what is football.

Such an example is illustrated by the example of Jim Leavitt, coach of the University of South Florida Bulls. Leavitt is the frontspiece of the University’s effort to create a big time Division 1 football program. I have been a fan of their efforts. When I moved to Tampa in 1995, USF did not have a football program. A local “boy”, Jim Leavitt, who was the defensive coordinator at Kansas State (where he was mentored by Bill Snyder), came back, taking a pay cut, to start the program. USF fast tracked the program and gave Leavitt pretty much whatever he needed to do so (except a stadium; Leavitt had to “make do” with the new Bucs NFL stadium, Raymond James; initially attracting crowds of 12,000; there have been times in the last two years where USF football watchers filled the 66,000+ stadium.)

The University toiled in Division I-AA from 1997-2000, moved to Division I as an independent in 2001-2002, went to Conference USA in 2003-2004 and joined the Big East in 2005. There they were 9-4 in 2006, ascending to national prominence in 2007 when they defeated powerhouse West Virginia. Such a meteoric rise is almost unprecedented in college football.

They got into the top 25 that year, and have had some successes since, though not as much as the University had hoped that Leavitt, a charismatic, often religious personality with a Bobby Knightish demeanor, would bring them. Leavitt, somewhat surprisingly, had risen to the level of doctoral student in psychology at the University of Iowa… a degree seeming to be a little “out of touch” with his sidelines persona. USF rewarded Leavitt handsomely with a $12.6 million 7 year contract extension in 2008, a big raise from his $7 million 2006 (7 year) contract.

With the money and the fame, and pursuit by bigger-time college programs, it appears that Leavitt’s ego has gone further and faster than his good sense. The incident that caused his recent downfall is the purported grabbing by the throat and facial slapping of one of his players at halftime. USF conducted an extensive internal review of the incident, hiring an outside law firm to assist. Clouding the issue is that, while the review went on (an probably in direct defiance of the confidentiality and “no retaliation” policies that exist whenever such an investigation is taken in the workplace) Leavitt had conversations with the player and purportedly told him to “choose your words wisely, I am the most powerful man in this building”. No doubt it was Leavitt’s lack of apology and denial of these words and most likely the facts of the situation that have resulted in his firing. Possibly (and I think more will come out) there have been other, non-reported incidents of similar behavior by Leavitt in the past.

In any case, the university could not see their way clear to keeping Leavitt, with apology and perhaps anger management study (USF has a great course, and also a great course in Workplace Violence Prevention) and fines. They terminated him on January 8.

Leavitt announced his intention to seek recourse against USF for wrongful termination this morning at an ill-advised press conference. In his rambling and emotional speech he cited “amen” and another religious reference, ill-advised. His lawyers are well-meaning employee rights and personal injury attorneys from his hometown. They are not prepared to play on a national level. He seeks reinstatement, hurting the University immeasurably in their search for a successor coach. Without success here, he may never coach again. Too, he may simply be looking for a decent settlement, since the $7+million left in his contract will be reduced to less that $67k in severance for termination with cause.

There needs to be a no tolerance policy for workplace violence in every workplace, and USF is no exception. That the coach did not display violence against another employee, but rather against a student (a customer, really) that put the University at risk is a clear cut case for termination. The student in question has hired a national profile attorney, Barry Cohen, to represent him against… the coach? The University? Certainly, by firing him, USF has mitigated this loss, although the whole affair hurts them athletically.

And while Leavitt's behavior publicly may be compared favorably to the ouster of known bully-to-all Mark Mangino and Mike Leach's downfall at Texas Tech (where he is said to have locked a player in a shed, humilating him, because he believed the player was faking a concussion)... all three are likely to keep their infamy alive simply by the "chaining" of these incidents. As one notable sportswriter said: "Like the rest of college football, they all learned that it's okay for coaches to be coaches. It's not okay for them to be tyrants."

Leavitt's teams are among the most highly penalized in college football. the coach?

Is this a guy who is too tightly wrapped, or what???

Ego. Football. Downfall. Happens a lot.

No comments: