Lawyers want Leavitt reinstated at USF

Updated: January 11, 2010, 8:37 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- Former South Florida football coach Jim Leavitt wants his job back, insisting his dismissal for allegedly striking one of his players and then lying about the incident was unwarranted.

"The allegations were misreported. I said that from day one, and I don't care how long it takes, I'm in this for my life -- my name, my reputation, my family," Leavitt said Monday during a news conference at the office of his attorneys.

"I want to coach this football team, this is the greatest job in the country, this is the greatest place to live, these guys are special, and I love my players, and I'm going to battle for my players in every way I can."

Leavitt was fired last week after a university investigation concluded he grabbed one his players by the throat, slapped the athlete in the face and then lied about what occurred during halftime of a game against Louisville on Nov. 21.

The school is standing by its findings.

"We believe the reviewers, both internal and external, were fair, thorough and professional in finding that the head coach crossed a line in terms of his conduct," vice president of communications Michael Hoad said.

Leavitt would not discuss specifics of the incident, citing legal reasons. Asked if he choked and slapped a player, the coach said: "Absolutely not. I've said that from day one."

Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy addressed USF players on Monday afternoon and told them he met with the school athletic director on Sunday.

While some USF boosters would like to see the school offer the position to Dungy, it is possible he is simply acting as a consultant.

In the presence of USF assistants, Dungy told the players that he had once been fired and the Bucs had gone on to win a Super Bowl the next year.

Among the coaches who have been mentioned as possible candidates to succeed Jim Leavitt are: Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora, Temple coach Al Golden, former Clemson coach Tommy Bowden, Michigan offensive coordinator Calvin Magee, East Carolina coach Skip Holtz and Houston coach Kevin Sumlin.

Leavitt just finished the second season of a seven-year, $12.6 million contract extension that calls for a base salary of $800,000 in 2010.

The terms of the contract stipulate if fired with cause Leavitt is entitled to one month's base pay, in this case $66,667. If fired without cause, the university would owe him 75 percent of what he's owed for the remainder of the contract.

Prior to the news conference, the law firm of Florin Roebig released a statement on behalf of Leavitt, saying the firing "is contrary to the terms of his contract" and violates the coach's constitutional rights.

The statement said Leavitt "fully and voluntarily" cooperated with the university investigation and consistently denied any wrongdoing. It also noted the player and player's father had denied the coach acted improperly.

"Based upon the facts [rather than the conclusions] of the university's investigation," the statement continued, "Coach Leavitt's termination is unwarranted, and he deserves to be immediately reinstated in full to his former position."

Citing Joel Miller's father, high school coach and five USF players who were not identified, AOL FanHouse reported that Leavitt hit Miller because he was upset about a mistake the player made on special teams.

Miller's father later backtracked, telling reporters the coach did not strike his son but rather grabbed him by the shoulder pads while trying to motivate the player.

Leavitt, who started USF's program from scratch and had a 13-season record of 95-57, told investigators he has never struck a player. He said was trying to lift the spirits of a player who was "down" when he grabbed the player's shoulder pads during halftime of the Louisville game.

The probe concluded the coach's account was not credible because it was not supported by statements obtained from others, who either witnessed the incident or were told of it by the player.

Leavitt said his relationship with his players is the most important thing to him, adding he has remained at USF for so long because he loves his job, even though he has been offered other coaching jobs paying more money.

"I came here for $75,000 a year. I was making $95,000 at Kansas State. It never has been about money. I've been offered jobs for a lot more money than the University of South Florida paid," Leavitt said.

Asked why he would want to stay at a university that doesn't want him, the coach said it would be best for the program to keep the current staff together.

"That's not difficult for me," Leavitt said.

Information from ESPN's Joe Schad and The Associated Press was used in this report.

ALSO SEE