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Friday, Sep 22, 2017
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Animated Coaches Put Their Best Faces Forward

Photo Galleries: Show off your best Gruden/Leavitt scowl | Our favorite expressions Special Report: Print your masks, and vote on the scariest mug. TAMPA - Jim Leavitt's sideline intensity has been evident since the University of South Florida's first football season in 1997. But when USF traveled to Rutgers for an ESPN-televised game on Oct. 18, it hit another level. Leavitt - his neck veins bulging, his wide-open eyes flashing and his scowl in full form - became a consistent target for cameramen.
And suddenly, a new question was posed: Who had the more scary Tampa-based presence? Leavitt or Bucs coach Jon Gruden. Gruden's expression, after all, has long been likened to the Chucky doll in the ''Child's Play'' slasher movie. ''I don't know whose face is more crazy,'' USF wide receiver Amarri Jackson said. ''Coach Gruden looks like Chucky, but I think Coach Leavitt looks like Freddy Krueger. At least Coach Leavitt will talk. I've seen Coach Gruden ball his face up and then he doesn't say anything.'' Jon Gruden as Chucky? It dates to 1998, when Gruden was a first-year head coach with the Oakland Raiders. Raiders tailback Harvey Williams didn't hear an audible call by quarterback Donald Hollas, who whirled for a handoff and found no one in the backfield. Gruden exploded. Williams later compared the rage to a real-life version of Chucky. Pretty soon, media outlets were placing photos of Gruden's grimace side-by-side with the evil, freckle-faced Chucky doll, and the resemblance was obvious. Chucky dolls became fixtures at Raider games, and the merchandise popped up in Tampa stores after Gruden's arrival with the Bucs in 2002. ''I never meant for these faces of displeasure, discomfort, irritation, or whatever you want to call them, to become a sidebar to the game,'' Gruden said. ''What can you say? I'm an animated guy.'' Leavitt pleads guilty to the same emotions. ''I'm not a guy who's not going to react,'' Leavitt said. ''I'm a battler. I'm a competitor. I'll fight for our players and I know that sometimes that won't look real charming, but I'm going to battle for our players. ''There were a number of calls [by officials at Rutgers] that I wanted to make clear I wasn't real happy about. You always want to be appropriate. I understand about the national audience [watching]. I can't change who I am. Will I again [get upset]? I'm sure I will.''

Reporter Joey Johnston can be reached at (813) 259-7353 or jjohnston@tampatrib.com

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