USF coach Leavitt fired amid allegations he hit a player

South Florida fired football coach Jim Leavitt after a school

investigation concluded he grabbed one of his players by the

throat, slapped him in the face and then lied about it.

A letter hand delivered to the coach and released along with

a report on the three-week probe said the university’s findings

were based on “independently corroborated statements of persons

found to be in the best position to observe your conduct.”

“Coach Leavitt committed a serious violation of our standards

of conduct regarding treatment of students,” university president

Judy Genshaft said Friday, adding a national search for a

replacement will be begin immediately.

Reached by telephone, the only coach in the program’s 13-year

history told The Associated Press he was “disappointed” and the

allegation was “absolutely false.”

Leavitt told investigators he has never struck a player and

that he was trying to lift the spirits of a player who was “down”

when he grabbed the player’s shoulder pads during halftime of a

game against Louisville on Nov. 21.

But the letter athletic director Doug Woolard presented to

Leavitt during a meeting with Genshaft stated informed the coach

“your description of your conduct toward the student athlete in

question was consistently uncorroborated by credible witnesses.”

The school also concluded Leavitt interfered with the

investigation by having “direct contact with material witnesses …

at a time you knew or should have known was critical to the review

process.”

Leavitt, who was 95-57, just completed the second season of a

seven-year, $12.6 million contract.

“I truly wish there had been another outcome to this

situation,” Woolard said during a news conference.

AOL FanHouse first reported the firing. Genshaft and Woolard

launched the investigation last month after a FanHouse report said

Leavitt had grabbed sophomore Joel Miller and hit him in the face

twice during halftime of the Louisville game.

Miller was penalized for an illegal block in the first half,

and he also was on the field when Louisville returned a punt for a

touchdown.

“I’m very disappointed. The allegations as reported are

absolutely false,” Leavitt said Friday. “I’m going to respond in

time.”

Citing Miller’s father, high school coach and five USF

players who were not identified, FanHouse initially reported

Leavitt struck Miller because he was upset about a mistake Miller

made on special teams.

Miller’s father later backtracked, telling reporters Leavitt

did not strike his son but rather grabbed him by the shoulder pads

while trying to motivate the sophomore walk-on.

Neither Genshaft nor Woolard took questions and specifics

about Leavitt’s were not discussed during the press conference.

Investigators talked to several players, who were not

identified by name and who either witnessed the alleged incident or

were told of it by a player referred to in the report as “Student

A.”

The report said during an initial interview with

investigators that “Student A” tried to play down the incident,

saying the coach grabbed his shoulder pads and “didn’t touch me in

any malicious way.”

The investigation concluded differently.

In his letter to Leavitt, Woolard said the athlete’s

statements after the probe began “are unpersuasive because they

were contradicted by the same student athlete in his conversations

with credible witnesses made close in time to when that conduct

occurred.”

Leavitt was hired in December 1995 and launched USF’s program

from scratch, operating out of trailers on campus in the early

years while guiding the Bulls’ swift progression from Division I-AA

to BCS conference member.

USF joined the Big East in 2005 and has played in a bowl game

every year since joining the league. The Bulls were ranked as high

as No. 2 in the nation in 2007 before a mid-season conference slide

dropped them out of the Top 25.

Similar collapses in conference play followed 5-0 starts each

of the past two years. The Bulls finished 8-5 this season.