Jim Leavitt had already arrived for this pre-arranged meeting. The meeting was to continue the ongoing lie that Leavitt and Miller were carrying on into what really happened during halftime in the locker room of the USF-Louisville game four weeks earlier.
Leavitt, who was Miller's football coach at USF, asked him to bring all the information and provide specific details about his testimony from when Miller spoke to USF investigators about the incident earlier that day.
As Miller pulled into the parking lot, he thought how ironic it was that he was meeting outside a church -- a church of all places! -- to collaborate on a cover-up.
"He told me to bring everything that happened [during Miller's Dec. 16 testimony with USF investigators] and give him everything that me and the investigators talked about and to write it all down on a piece of paper," Miller told FanHouse in an exclusive interview Thursday.
Leavitt initially told Miller to e-mail this information to his wife's e-mail account. His wife's account, of course, would not be accessible through a public records search. But instead of e-mailing the information, Miller and Leavitt met in a church parking lot for about 10 minutes.
Miller gave Leavitt a page that he had typed with all of the details and specifics of his testimony to USF's investigators.
"It was a weird feeling," said Miller about the secretive meeting.
The clandestine meeting between Leavitt and Miller was just one example of the extremes Leavitt, the only coach in USF's 13-year history, took to try and cover up the details about what happened in the locker room that, because of Leavitt's lies, ultimately cost Leavitt his job that would have paid him $9.5 million over the next five years.
Leavitt wasn't the only high-ranking official in the athletics department who was aware of the incident. Miller said "everyone in the USF athletics building, including athletic director Doug Woolard," knew what happened to him days after the incident. "Everyone knew," Miller said. "Everyone knows what happened."
"We [Miller and Leavitt] talked and collaborated about it," Miller said.
Miller even remarked in the second half of the USF-Louisville game that some USF players told Louisville players about the incident between plays and during stoppages in play.
A four-week investigation conducted by USF, that was initiated by a FanHouse report that Leavitt grabbed Miller by the throat and hit him twice at halftime of the Louisville game, concluded that Leavitt not only hit Miller, as reported by FanHouse, but also lied repeatedly trying to cover it up and tampered with witnesses.
Two days after the Nov. 21 incident, Miller said he went to Leavitt's office to discuss what had happened. Leavitt refused to apologize or even acknowledge he had done anything wrong. According to USF's investigative report, Leavitt told Miller to "choose his words wisely, because [Leavitt said he] was the most powerful person in the building."
Miller said Thursday that quote was inaccurate.
"He said, 'Before you speak your next words, choose your next words carefully because I'm the reason you're here. You should be coming in here and thanking me [for letting him transfer from The Citadel]. How many walk-ons would have this chance? Zero. You should be thanking me for grabbing you, you were out of it,'" Miller said Leavitt told him.
Leavitt then explained to Miller how Leavitt had been "coached" as a player.
According to Miller, Leavitt told him: "My coach hit me and knocked me to the ground and I was so mad at him. He was like, 'Well leave Jim, leave.' I wanted to fight with him."
Leavitt then told Miller, "You'll look back 20-30 years on this and be thanking me."
On another occasion, Miller said he went into Leavitt's office, hoping for some type of admission of guilt or apology from Leavitt.
"Right after I walked into his office, I told him, 'You know I'm lying for you,'" Miller said. "'I'm lying for those coaches.' All he said was, if I did it, I don't remember."
Since FanHouse first reported the incident Dec. 14, Leavitt -- after initially not denying the allegations to FanHouse -- later proclaimed his innocence to local media. He also has hired attorneys and said he "absolutely did not" grab Miller by the throat and hit him twice in the face as reported by FanHouse and also confirmed by USF's investigation, which interviewed 29 individuals, including 20 football players.
"The obvious truth is he grabbed me [by the throat] and hit me twice [in the face]," said Miller, who was not wearing his helmet at the time. "This is not about money, not about lawsuits. It's come to a point it's about my character. The one thing I have is my character and I don't want people to perceive me different than I am."
Miller said when Leavitt hit him he was "more stunned" than anything.
"It wasn't the physical part," Miller said. "It was more 'why would you hit me?' I was more confused. When it happened, I didn't want it to leak out. I went to try to talk to him, but he didn't apologize and tried to flip it around."
Miller said he spoke to USF investigators twice about the incident and told them nothing happened because he was under intense pressure to keep it quiet. Both Miller and his high-profile attorney Barry Cohen said Miller was concerned by telling the investigators what really happened that it might ultimately cost Leavitt his job and also the jobs of USF's assistants. Miller said he was also concerned how it would affect the team in their bowl game.
"When I heard he [Leavitt] denied it to the public, I was forced to say it [didn't happen] was the truth [because if he didn't] my football career would have a damper on it or people would think 'this kid isn't good,'" Miller said. "'This kid can't handle it.' "
Still, Miller provided investigators five names of players who witnessed the incident, who "were ultimately the sources of information for what happened," according to the investigative report.
Miller said all he wants from Leavitt is a public apology, admitting that Leavitt grabbed his throat, hit him twice and that Leavitt has been lying about this entire incident.
"Why should [Leavitt] apologize for something he didn't do?" Wil Florin, one of Leavitt's attorneys, told The Tampa Tribune. "I don't want to get into [what] Joel Miller [said], but clearly he is under a lot of pressure from a lot of people. I think the real story is how the university will respond. It should do the right thing and reinstate Coach Leavitt to his job.'"
Cohen said if Leavitt doesn't make a public apology within seven-to-10 days "that there may very well be a lawsuit."
Miller said, while having to cover up what has happened, it has affected him and his family and caused a great deal of stress. Cohen said Leavitt had called Miller's father, Paul, at least 15 times telling him to go the media to corroborate the story.
"I haven't been sleeping," Joel Miller said. "It's affected me. No matter where I go, people are always saying stuff to me. A lot of it bad. A lot of people are saying bad things about me."
Miller's mother, Cathy, is a teacher, and his father, Paul, is a former Tampa police officer.
"They've been taking it hard," Joel said. "People have been crucifying them and giving them a hard time too."
Miller said it was difficult not to tell the truth to the investigators, but he was just trying to protect USF's football program.
"When I was growing up my parents told me not to lie, cheat and steal," he said. "They instilled all of the good qualities. It was hard for me to lie. Not just to [the media], but everyone.
"Everyone was saying, 'I was a sissy. I was a liar. You got a great coach fired. You dance ballet.' No one knows what they're talking about. This was real hard for me mentally because I wasn't allowed to say anything.
"There are Leavitt fans out there who think he is God. I'm just a walk-on. Just because I'm a walk-on, they're going to blame me. He's been [at USF 13 years], I've been there two. As the public sees it, it's all my fault."
Cohen, however, challenged Leavitt in a Thursday morning press conference to "man up" and to "go look in the mirror and see a coward who wouldn't man up."
Ironically, shortly after Cohen's news conference concluded from his 10th floor offices in downtown Tampa, FanHouse broke the news that East Carolina coach Skip Holtz had accepted an offer to become USF's next coach.
Meanwhile, Leavitt and his lawyers continue his legal fight to get his job back, but those slim chances took another hit. Thursday afternoon, USF released the findings from its post-termination meeting Wednesday with Leavitt and "the termination decision should stand," wrote USF Provost Ralph Wilcox.
Contact FanHouse reporter Brett McMurphy at firstname.lastname@example.org