South Florida Senior Says Joel Miller Gave Details of Jim Leavitt's Slap
Wide receiver Colby Erskin (right) told FanHouse that Miller also asked for his advice on what he should do a few days after the Nov. 21 incident.
On Dec. 14, FanHouse initially reported that five members of the football program witnessed the incident and that Miller told his father, Paul Miller, and his high school coach, David Mitchell, that Leavitt struck him. That same day the university announced it would conduct an external investigation into the incident.
Erskin, who suffered a season-ending torn ACL in October, was not in the locker room and did not witness the incident, but told investigator Thomas Gonzalez two weeks ago what Miller told him days after the incident occurred. Erskin also said at least five other players told him that they have told Gonzalez that Leavitt struck Miller.
The investigation is now into its fourth week. Gonzalez, an external expert specializing in workplace issues, has said he would not comment while the investigation is ongoing.
"Joel told me that coach Leavitt was in his face and yelling at him for getting a penalty on a special teams play," Erskin said. "He said that Coach asked him a question about the play and Joel said he was hesitant to answer. Coach asked him the question a second time and Joel still didn't answer, so Leavitt grabbed him with one hand around Joel's neck and he slapped him twice with the other."
Erskin said Miller also told him when Miller went to Leavitt's office to discuss the incident on Nov. 23 that Leavitt told Miller "before you say anything, just know I am the most powerful man in the building."
A few days after that meeting with Leavitt is when Miller asked Erskin for advice, Erskin said.
"He asked me what he thought he should do," Erskin said. "I told him to tell [athletic director] Doug Woolard everything he just told me. He was afraid that he would get kicked off the team or even if he didn't get kicked off the team that Leavitt would never play him. I told him that people that saw what happened would have his back."
The five eyewitnesses that spoke to FanHouse in its initial story all did so with the condition of anonymity because they said they feared Leavitt would remove them from scholarship or they might lose their job.
Kevin Erskin, Colby's father, said he decided to speak out when he learned Leavitt cleaned out his son's locker and threw the contents, including Colby's personal items and International Bowl jersey, into a trash bin. Colby discovered his items were missing when he returned to South Florida Monday. Equipment manager Jeremy Lees told Colby Erskin that Leavitt had personally removed everything. Colby said he found his belongings in a trash bin in USF's football equipment room.
"That was the last straw," Kevin Erskin said.
Colby Erskin also said Leavitt told him he would not have a scholarship for the 2009 season midway in October 2008, which caused him to alter his course load as he expected to have to pay for the tuition and hurt his chances to pursue a double major or a masters. Erskin's scholarship was renewed in July, but Erskin only became aware of the renewal when he received a notice in the mail in mid-July.
Erskin graduated in December with a criminology degree
Kevin Erskin also said he feared Leavitt would sabotage his son's chances to apply for a sixth year with the NCAA -- Colby has suffered three torn ACLs in the past three years and has been limited to only six games during that period -- and Colby was told by Lees he needed to ask Leavitt if he could still use the school's facility to continue rehabbing his knee.
Colby Erskin said after retrieving his belongings from the trash, he then called Gonzalez, the investigator, about what had happened with his belongings and left a message with Woolard to also discuss it. Woolard did not return his call. Instead, executive associate AD Bill McGillis called the Erskins and told them Colby's locker would be restored and he could continue his rehab, but Colby would have to discuss his scholarship situation with Woolard.
"Absolutely Leavitt is retaliating," Kevin Erskin said. "There's no question in my mind. That's like a vindictive teenager. That's exactly what he's doing. I think he thinks Colby is the one that told you to break the story in the first place and, of course, he's told other people that Colby's done that. That he sabotaged Leavitt's career. I believe what made him feel that way is Colby told him he didn't want to go to the bowl game because he wanted to stay back and rehab.
"[Leavitt] has never taken responsibility yet on what he did and that irritates me."
McGillis did not return an e-mail or phone call seeking comment Tuesday.
Kevin Erskin said his son told him about the conversations he had with Joel Miller.
"After Joel went to Leavitt's office and he did [the] 'I'm the most powerful man in the building' crap, Colby talked to Joel face-to-face and Joel told Colby what happened," Kevin Erskin said. "To me, [Leavitt] losing control was one thing. I've raised kids and I'm a [Largo, Fla.] middle school teacher and believe me, I've been put in situations where a lot of us could do stupid things. But to have a day or two or three to think about it and my statement would be 'Don't mess with me, I'm the most powerful man in this building?' That floored me.
"It irritates me that [Leavitt] caused this whole thing and it's affecting so many people and he hasn't manned up at all. To just say: 'Look I screwed up. Let me take the heat off you guys. I'm not going to get everyone else [in trouble] and ruin everyone else's life.'
"Leavitt doesn't give a [crap] about that. That bugs me. Doesn't he realize how many people he's affecting? Does he think I'm the only parent that feels this way?"
Erskin walked on to USF in 2005 from Seminole High School. He was put on scholarship in 2007 when then receivers coach (now offensive coordinator) Mike Canales called Erskin, who ran a sub 4.3 40-yard dash, USF's fastest player before he suffered the first of three torn ACLs.
When FanHouse initially contacted Leavitt on Dec. 14 about the incident with Miller, Leavitt refused to discuss the allegations. "Things that happen or don't happen usually are kept within the team -- whether they happen or don't happen," he said.
After the FanHouse report was posted, Leavitt told local newspapers that he had never struck a player. Paul Miller, who conducted five interviews with FanHouse and said that "Leavitt crossed the line" by hitting his son, changed his story and told local newspapers Leavitt did not strike his son.
Joel Miller also told ESPN.com that Leavitt didn't hit him, but "only grabbed my shoulder pads to motivate me."
David Mitchell, an ordained deacon and Miller's coach at Tampa's Wharton High School, said he stood by his original comments to FanHouse that Joel Miller told him he was grabbed by the neck and hit twice by Leavitt and FanHouse's report was "100 percent accurate" based on what Miller told him.
"I'm not taking back anything I said to you." he said.
Paul Jacob Miller, Joel Miller's older brother, told Tampa radio station 620-WDAE last month that since his brother is a walk-on and is not on scholarship "if he opens his mouth at all, he has everything to lose."
Miller's brother also told WDAE that "the whole team saw it [the incident]."
USF officials have said there is no timetable on how long until the investigation is completed. Once Gonzalez and Sandy Lovins, USF's Associate Vice President for Human Resources, conclude the investigation, their findings will be forwarded to President Judy Genshaft and Woolard, who will determine what, if any, disciplinary action will be taken against Leavitt.
Leavitt, the only coach in USF's 13-year history with a 95-57 record, just completed the second year of a seven-year contract worth $12.6 million. He will make $1.6 million, plus incentives, during the 2009-10 school year.
Contact FanHouse reporter Brett McMurphy at email@example.com