USF's Leavitt strongly denies report he struck player
TAMPA - University of South Florida football coach Jim Leavitt denied late Monday an online report that he grabbed by the throat and struck Joel Miller, a walk-on from Wharton High, twice in the face during halftime of USF's win over Louisville on Nov. 21. "I'm very disappointed in what was written,'' Leavitt told The Tampa Tribune. "It's untrue and completely false. I want to get the truth out. The most damage I did during halftime in that locker room was to my face.'' The report, published by AOL's FanHouse.com and written by former Tribune reporter Brett McMurphy, cited Miller's father, Paul Miller, Miller's coach at Wharton High and five unnamed sources within the USF program. The university's vice president of communications, Michael Hoad, issued a statement:"The University of South Florida is aware of the story and will review the matter promptly. We're committed to ensuring due process for everyone involved. To ensure fairness, the university doesn't comment during a review." Paul Miller rebutted the report during an interview in his New Tampa home on Monday evening. Paul Miller said his son was distracted the day of the Louisville game because of his grandfather's death three days earlier. He said during the first half, he noticed his son didn't appear to be his usual self as one of USF's special teams standouts. Paul Miller said, from what his son told him, at halftime Leavitt noticed Joel Miller was in a daze and Leavitt grabbed his shoulder pads, accidentally brushing his neck. Paul Miller denied Leavitt struck his son in the face twice as the FanHouse report alleges, based on five anonymous sources. "That's absolutely not true,'' Paul Miller said. "As a father, that's absolutely not true. That's all I can really tell you. Joel wasn't having a very good game. I guess Coach Leavitt noticed he was just sitting there all by himself and wasn't responding.'' Joel Miller declined to comment. In an e-mail to the Tribune late Monday, FanHouse.com editor-in-chief Scott Ridge said, "We stand by our story." Leavitt had cuts visible on his face after halftime of the Louisville game, but multiple players said those occurred when he head-butted LaDre Watkins, another walk-on from Wharton High who recently left the team, to fire up the Bulls. The FanHouse story reported that Leavitt struck Miller because he was upset with a mistake Miller made on special teams in the first half against Louisville. Paul Miller said he has known Leavitt for 15 years and that Joel first started attending Leavitt's football camp 10 years ago. When USF didn't recruit Joel out of Wharton High, he accepted a full football scholarship to The Citadel. Shortly after starting his college career at The Citadel, Miller transferred to USF and joined the team as a preferred walk-on, starring on special teams the past two seasons. Paul Miller said his son's dream growing up was to play for the Bulls and that what happened in the locker room, in his view, was over. "He's just not that kind of guy,'' Paul Miller said of Leavitt. "I know at times he gets a little excited, but not to that point. He really cares about Joel. So, when he and Joel straightened it out, that was enough for me. Everything is fine.''