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Jim Leavitt fired: Is the era of the coach-king over?

South Florida football coach Jim Leavitt, fired Friday for allegedly slapping a player at a November game, is the third coach to lose his job in six weeks over player mistreatment charges.

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What’s remarkable is that these aren’t minor league journeymen coaches. Mangino was college football Coach of the Year in 2008. Leach was 2008 Big 12 Coach of the Year. And Leavitt is credited with one of the fastest program turnarounds in the history of college sports, leading the University of South Florida from a nonexistent program 13 years ago to one that now regularly sells out Raymond James stadium in Tampa.

Politics probably played at least some part in the Leach and Leavitt firings; both coaches had butted heads with their respective administrations about the direction of the programs.

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While the Leach firing took many in the college football world by surprise, USF’s summary action against Leavitt had the air of inevitability. Leavitt’s emotions were known to rise to the point where he’d at least once head-butted a locker hard enough to bloody his own forehead. “He could be a bully, vindictive,” writes Tampa Tribune columnist Joe Henderson.

In defense of the tough guy

Still, many players have come to the defense of the ousted coaches. And many colleges will weigh a coach’s temperament against “the number of W’s on the season” and the financial windfall from a good bowl game seed, notes Mr. Cohn.

For others, the firings contradict a central tenet of football: the ability of players to take a coach’s guff like a man.

“If my son called and said, ‘Coach made me run X amount of laps or yelled at me or made me stand in a dark room for an hour,’ I’d say, ‘Son, are you a football player? I think you’re going to face a lot worse on game day,’ ” high school coach Ron Freeman, the father of Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman, tells the Kansas City Star.

Empowered by doting parents and insta-communication technology, more players are letting their thoughts, feelings, and reactions emanate from once-sacrosanct depths of the clubhouse. Coaches who expect what happens in the locker room to stay in the locker room will have to rethink their assumptions, experts say.

“There’s no longer anonymity in the locker room,” sports psychologist Harold Shinitzky tells the Star.

The lines of how far a coach can go to push a player change, of course, sometimes subtly. In some ways, the recent firings should come not as a surprise, but as evidence of the slow suffusion of new values and attitudes into the NCAA's constellation of schools.

In 2004, NCAA president Myles Brand, who as University of Indiana president had fired the hotheaded Bobby Knight in 2000, instituted a strategic plan that mandates that "individuals at all levels of intercollegiate athletics will be accountable to the highest standards of behavior," the Monitor wrote after Leach’s firing.


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