Tue Dec 15 10:11am EST
Monday's news 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 elicited one very predictable reaction, in the form of an emphatic denial by Leavitt:
"I'm appalled at it," Leavitt said Monday afternoon. "It's absolutely not true. It's so wrong. It's so far out there. I'm very disappointed something like this would be written."
That reaction isn't surprising. But the accusation also brought one very unpredictable response, from Paul Miller, the father of the player Leavitt allegedly slapped, who veered sharply from his role as Leavitt's harshest critic in the original report to the coach's staunchest defender, according to the St. Petersburg Times:
In contrast to the report, Miller's father, Paul, in a conversation Monday with the Times, said he does not think his son was so much as slapped and said the incident has been overexaggerated.
"I stand behind the university and Coach Leavitt 100 percent," Paul Miller said. "I truly believe there was no malicious intent to hit anyone. He grabbed his shoulder pad, but it was like a motivational thing. After talking with Joel, he was satisfied there was not a slap, not at all."
Miller was more blunt elsewhere, calling the story "a bunch of bull----." This from the same guy -- a former Tampa police officer -- who was quoted by former USF beat writer Brett McMurphy in the initial AOL FanHouse report as saying, "Somewhere [Leavitt] crossed the line," and "You do something like that [on the street], you put them in jail." What do you make of an accuser who effectively initiates an assault charge, then aligns himself with the alleged assailant in the same afternoon?
That's what the university will have to sort out in the course of its internal investigation, which will probably focus much more on the half-dozen players and staffers McMurphy cites (anonymously) as corroborating witnesses. The outside guess is that Leavitt's odds of exoneration went up dramatically with Miller's recanting and reminders that McMurphy had "run-ins" with the coach during his days at the Tampa Tribune. (It wouldn't even be the first time this month that a FanHouse report by McMurphy of impropriety at USF apparently came up empty.) But Leavitt is also certainly correct when he says that, with his longstanding reputation for "intensity" and explosive reactions on the sideline, no acquittal will wipe the accusation from his record.