Jim Leavitt is the only head coach that USF, now in its 10th year of intercollegiate football, has ever known. He is obviously more responsible than anyone for putting the Bulls on the map, into the Big East and in a bowl game within a decade. He has surpassed most expectations for the program.
But not all.
Back in the mid-’90s when the program was created, there were naysayers. Football is expensive, it was pointed out. Most programs don’t operate in the black. And the pressure to compete can also lead to easily compromised standards.
The latter argument prompted two USF presidents, Frank Borkowski and Betty Castor, to underscore a unique opportunity. USF didn’t have to undo anything. Nothing needed fixing. It had the chance — and the charge — to build a program the right way. With legitimate student-athletes – not academic misfits or societal miscreants.
Affiliation with the BCS Big East will continue to help on the financial side – as will winning and scheduling teams that will draw well at Raymond James Stadium. As to being an exemplar program, that hasn’t happened.
USF has been no stranger to suspensions, arrests, academic shortcomings and transfer-itis. It tends to come with the territory of high-pressure, 1-A football, but it was hoped the virgin terrain would be different with a start-up program.
It hasn’t been.
Moreover, the relationship of Leavitt with the media seems to be eroding. A couple of weeks ago Leavitt put in a cameo appearance at a regional media event that unnecessarily alienated many of the very people whose job it is to cover USF. TV interviews at the McNeese State game were terse to rude.
Granted, the media – shorthand for a bunch of geeks who never played the game at this level – can be bothersome, especially if things aren’t going well. But Leavitt needs to remember the media’s role and impact. It’s a de facto , gratis publicity machine that can criticize as well as compliment. Working with it is a necessary part of a very public job that pays $1 million a year.
Sure, the media can be blamed for intrusive behavior and inane questions.
But it can’t be blamed for academic non-qualifiers, positive drug tests, last season’s coaching meltdown at Connecticut or the recruiting of Carlton Hill.