December 17, 2009
Since news first broke this week that South Florida coach Jim Leavitt had been accused of grabbing and striking a player at halftime of the Bulls' win over Louisville last month, we've heard from everyone on the periphery of the incident: From anonymous witnesses who corroborated the incident; from Leavitt himself, who was "appalled" by the charges; the player's father, who initially insinuated Leavitt was a borderline criminal before reversing course to defend the coach "100 percent" and call news reports of excessive abuse "a bunch of bull---"; from the player's brother, who called a Tampa radio station to say Leavitt is "just not a very nice man," despite having never met him in person.
The only person we hadn't heard from was the player Leavitt was accused of slapping, walk-on Joel Murray, who broke his silence Wednesday to ESPN's Joe Schad in what amounted to a wholehearted defense of his coach (emphasis added):
"I don't think anything should happen to him," Miller said. "Me and Coach Leavitt are fine. People can say different things but he only grabbed my shoulder pads to motivate me, because he's a passionate guy. He never apologized because he had nothing to apologize for."
"I believe that my family's story was misrepresented," Joel Miller said. "I told this to the school when they interviewed me for a half-hour or hour on Tuesday. Basically, I wasn't having a good game on special teams and he tried to motivate me. He [Leavitt] never did any of those things and he never has that I've seen. I had some things on my mind because my Grandfather had died the day before. Coach Leavitt cares about me. We talk all the time."
The university's investigation will continue, but if Miller told the school's H.R. gurus what he told Schad, the odds of Leavitt facing any serious discipline beyond a perfunctory anger management class -- much less a dismissal, a la his former Kansas State colleague Mark Mangino -- are probably hovering around nil.
And the fact-checking vultures over former USF beat writer Brett McMurphy's original story for AOL FanHouse will grow tenfold -- McMurphy reportedly had a rocky history with Leavitt during his days at the Tampa Tribune and has already put out one erroneous charge of an NCAA investigation against the Bull basketball team earlier this month. Who were his anonymous sources, and what did they see? Did anyone offer conflicting reports that he neglected to include in the FanHouse story? Are USF fans charging McMurphy with an agenda on to something? If Leavitt comes out as clean as he's beginning to sound, the explanation of where this story came from should be at least as juicy as the charge it tossed out in the first place.