Yet one more football coach being held accountable for his actions…


1 Response to “Yet one more football coach being held accountable for his actions…”

  1. January 14, 2010 at 12:40 PM


    BYLINE: JEFF JACOBS jjacobs@courant.com

    If a coach kneels in front of a despondent player, shakes him by the shoulder pads and offers words of encouragement, it is leadership.

    If a coach glowers and towers over a player, grabs him by the throat and smacks him twice across the face with an open hand, it’s grounds for dismissal.

    If we can’t agree on those broad parameters, perhaps you should stop reading here and move to North Korea or move in with Bob Knight. There must be some line of acceptable conduct for the almighty college coach.

    Three football men have been forced out of their jobs the past six weeks after allegations of abusive behavior. Mark Mangino resigned under duress at Kansas, Mike Leach was fired at Texas Tech and, on Friday, South Florida dismissed Jim Leavitt.

    We are left wondering what it means.

    Is this, as Internet comments suggest, evidence of the sissification of American sports? Evidence college presidents finally found a backbone and exerted some control of autocratic coaches? Or is it the product of a generation of over-indulgent parents? Nothing like a doting daddy and his son’s Twitter account to violate the age-old secret society of the locker room, right?

    At any rate, the first paragraph in this column is Leavitt’s version of what happened in the locker room at halftime of a game against Louisville on Nov. 21. The second is the eyewitness version of at least two unnamed USF players.

    After a month’s work, after interviewing 20 players and 29 people in all, investigators concluded Leavitt did grab sophomore walk-on Joel Miller by the throat, slap him and later lie about it. Leavitt, 53, has denied any wrongdoing.

    After reading the 33-page report, one filled with conflicting testimony, I am equally convinced school president Judy Genshaft and athletic director Doug Woolard had to be angered by what Woolard called Leavitt’s uncorroborated version of the facts and his subsequent interference in the investigation.

    In short, the coverup may have hurt Leavitt as badly as the “crime.”

    When this story broke last month at Fanhouse.com, Miller’s father, Paul, a former Tampa police officer, said, “You do something like that [on the street], you put them in jail.”

    Yet days later, father and son did an about-face and said Leavitt hadn’t struck Joel. Miller’s high school coach, however, never wavered from the initial account. The investigation tore into Leavitt’s credibility.

    If this had been an episode of “Law & Order,” he would have been shredded: Leavitt is the only one among all the witnesses who described his approach toward Miller as encouraging, the only one who said he was kneeling. Leavitt told investigators he was unaware Miller had made two bad plays on special teams in the first half, including a penalty, when Leavitt’s demeanor clearly demonstrated otherwise. Leavitt told investigators he rarely shakes players and had apologized to Miller yet had told the media he often shakes players. Miller, in defending Leavitt to ESPN, said Leavitt didn’t apologize and didn’t need to. According to investigators, Miller had told a number of teammates he had gone to see Leavitt about the incident and the coach warned him to choose his words wisely because he’s the “most powerful man in the building.” Leavitt denied this.

    After he was told not to discuss the investigation with any of the players, Leavitt met again with Miller. Both player and coach said it was a chance meeting. There also was a claim by wide receiver Colby Erskin, one of the witnesses, that Leavitt had the contents of his locker dumped in the trash in retaliation.

    All this makes Leavitt look bad. And with Miller backing off his initial account – despite several witnesses corroborating his story – it looks as if the kid buckled in his fear of Leavitt.

    Although he was only in the second year of a seven-year, $12.6 million deal and the USF hierarchy seemed profoundly saddened Friday, there has been talk some boosters believed Leavitt had taken the program as far as he could and had had enough of him. If that is true, Leavitt delivered the ammunition they needed.

    Look, if a coach wins, most fans support him no matter what. The Leach situation involving Adam James, son of ESPN analyst Craig James, became the nastiest hornet’s nest I’ve ever seen. Depending on the point of view, Leach is either an abusive tyrant for putting a young man with a concussion in a dark shed or James is a spoiled brat whose daddy has used his national bully pulpit.

    The details, of course, only mean everything. For our purposes today we’re focusing only on UConn’s Big East brethren. Over 13 seasons, Leavitt, 95-57, built the USF program from nothing. He took the Bulls to a No. 2 ranking at its apex, but there’s also something over the top about him. He rages on the sideline. On Nov. 21, in fact, he head-butted a helmeted player, bloodying the bridge of his own nose. Leavitt takes his teams to a certain point each season and they seem to burn out. Some say he pushes himself too hard. Others say he pushes his players too hard. He’s demanding. He can be combative.

    Gone are the days when a coach could be sure everything said, shaken and slapped in the locker room would stay in the locker room. Parents rush to their kids’ defense. Many kids no longer suffer coaching outbursts silently. They’ll go on Facebook. They’ll text. They’ll Twitter. Word gets out in a hurry. Still, there has to be a way to instill discipline with dignity.

    Coaches like Tony Dungy and UConn’s Randy Edsall have managed it. There has to be leeway to fire up a team, without resorting to grabbing a player by his throat and slapping him. That stuff’s not leadership. That’s lunacy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s



%d bloggers like this: