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COPYRIGHT NOTICE This Oral History is copyrighted by the University of South Florida Libraries Oral History Program on behalf of the Board of Trustees of the University of South Florida. Copyright, 200 8 University of South Florida. All rights, reserved. T his oral history may be used for research, instruction, and private study under the provisions of the Fair Use. Fair Use is a provision of the United States Copyright Law (United States Code, Title 17, section 107), which allows limited use of copyrighted materials under certain conditions. Fair Use limits the amount of material that may be used. For all other permissions and requests, contact the UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA LIBRARIES ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at the University of South Florida, 4202 E. Fowler Avenue, LIB 122, Tampa, FL 33620.
1 USF Florida Studies Center Oral History Program USF 50 th History Anniversary Project Narrator: Jim Leavitt Interviewer: Mark I. Greenberg Current Position: Head Coach, USF Football Location of Interview: Tampa Team Campus Library Date of Interview: March 11, 2004 Abstractor: Jared G. Toney Editor: Danielle E. Riley Final Editor: Jared G. Toney Date of Edit: March 25, 2004 TOPICS OF DISCUSSION Early interest in sports He was born in Texas, and his dad was in the Air Force, "So we moved all over the world." They came to St. Petersburg when Coach Leavitt was in the third grade, and remained there through his high school graduation. He first began playing flag football in fourth grade, and ended up playing quarterback in high schoo l. Following graduation, he was offered an athletic scholarship to the University of Missouri, where he played football (defensive back) and baseball (outfield) for four years (1974 1977) while completing his master's degree in counseling. "I just loved pl aying I was very competitive and I worked very hard at it." Early coaching experiences He coached at the University of Dubuque in Iowa for two years, "Where I probably learned more about coaching than anywhere else." He then moved on to Morningside Co llege where he served for six years as an assistant football coach and psychology teacher. He went on to the University of Iowa where he began a Ph.D. in sports psychology. While working on his dissertation, Bill Snyder at Kansas State University called an d offered Leavitt a job. He left his studies at Iowa behind and took the opportunity to coach a division one team at Kansas State, where he spent the next six years. When he made the move to Kansas State University, Leavitt realized that his future was in coaching. Though the school had one of the worst football programs in NCAA history, by the time Leavitt left, the defense was ranked first in the country, and seventh nationally in the AP poll. Move to USF He was then offered a job at the University of S outh Florida, which he gladly accepted. "To be able to come home to do what I love most people in life never have that opportunity." They started off in a trailer with very few resources, yet he recalls the experience was "so exciting." He was responsi ble for building the program from the ground up, which included hiring an entire staff.
2 Leavitt first heard of the position from head baseball coach Eddie Cardieri, a long time friend of his. He wanted to be a head coach "in the worst way," and would onl y leave Kansas State if such a position were offered to him. The position at USF was particularly appealing to him because not only was it a brand new program, but it gave him the opportunity to come back to where he had grown up. "What a great challenge to start football from scratch." First season at USF They practiced for one year, and had their very first scrimmage after only nine days of practice. To his surprise, 5,000 spectators came out to witness the unveiling of the first USF football team. Th e very first year of the football program, 20,000 season tickets were sold. After one year, the opening game was held against Kentucky Western in front of 50,000 fans. He recalls the kicker coming up to him before the game saying that they had forgotten th e tees. Because they were playing at Tampa Stadium, he asked former Buccaneer Lee Roy Selmon if he knew where the kicking tees were kept in the stadium. After scurrying around for some time, the tees were eventually found, much to the relief of Coach Leavi tt. After a year of preparation, the Bulls won their first game. "Everything went so well it was an incredible night I was just like on clouds it really meant a lot to me." The team completed their first season with a record of 5 6. "We didn't have a winning season, but I didn't know if we could win one game, to be honest." Over the course of the following years, the team continued to improve, and was nationally ranked for two consecutive years in division 1 AA football. The team then advanced to d ivision 1 A football, where they have played for the past several years with a winning record of 27 9. "I'm just so proud of how this community has embraced this football program." What he is most proud of is "the fact that I really believe we have great discipline in our program that our players are focused on their education we care more about them than [just] what's happening on the football field." He celebrates a high academic success rate among his players, something that he believes in very stro ngly. Academic experiences His parents always stressed the importance of education, and Leavitt recalls being very competitive in his classes from an early age. When he went to Missouri, "I was very sensitive about being labeled a dumb jock' that was offensive to me." Because he loved being around people, he always suspected that he would end up going into counseling. Eventually, he combined his two passions and decided to study sports psychology. While serving as both a coach and an instructor during the academic semesters, he was taking six to nine credit hours of coursework each summer for his Ph.D. After some time, he chose to resign from his position in order to pursue his doctorate degree at the University of Iowa. After finishing his coursework, he began writing his dissertation on "intrinsic versus extrinsic religious orientation as it relates to stress and burnout among division one football coaches." He recalls, "I didn't know where it was going to take me but I loved going to school."
3 Coac hing style He believes it is important for coaches to maintain close relationships with the athletes, a conclusion he drew after spending a number of years coaching at a small college level. He also stresses the importance of the university in the overall success of athletic programs, from the administration and faculty to the local community. "Football Can be a tremendous asset to a university, especially if things are done in the right way." He attributes most of his current coaching style to those expe riences at the University of Dubuque and Morningside College. "Young people want to work hard, and they want responsibility but they want to be loved, and cared for that's really got to be a part of your life. If you don't have this care for young pe ople, they're not going to work." He asserts that in order to be a good leader, one must be a good servant. Initial years at USF Though he began the program with very limited resources, Leavitt feels the university administration and community has been extremely supportive in the team's development. "I feel pretty fortunate it's kind of an honor to be here." There was not any recruiting done before Leavitt's arrival at USF, something which presented particular challenges to the new head coach. "To be q uite honest with you, it wasn't a hard sell we got some great guys." Because resources were limited and early salaries low, Leavitt found coaches who shared his dream and vision for the future of the football program at USF. Leavitt asserts that Paul G riffin was instrumental in establishing a successful football program at USF. Serving as athletic director at the time, he established many of the early foundations for USF football, and was responsible for hiring both Coach Leavitt and Lee Roy Selmon, con tributing greatly to the credibility of the program. Athletic conferences Though the team started off in Division 1 AA, from day one Coach Leavitt had his sights set on Division 1 A. In 2003, the team entered Conference USA, something Leavitt celebrated as "really an incredible feat." The team has recently been approved to enter the Big East in 2005, where USF will gain a great deal more national exposure while providing stronger financial support. Successful players Leavitt has seen some of his players go on to play football professionally. "I just coach these guys they put in the hard work [and] effort the credit is to those guys." Among those early players drafted into the NFL were Kenyatta Jones, Anthony Henry, and Bill Grammatica, some of whom w ent on to win Super Bowl rings, an achievement which Leavitt jokingly asserts, "gave us a million dollars worth of worldwide advertising." Personal influences When asked what coaches he looks up to, Coach Leavitt replies, "All of them!" The ones that ha ve most influenced him personally are Don Birmingham from the University of Dubuque, Bill Snyder, and Bob Stoops, among others.
4 Leavitt feels he is extremely fortunate to be coaching here at USF. He feels humbled by other job offers, and believes they ar e indicative of the overall success of the football program at the university. "South Florida has done wonderful things for me No matter what happens in the future, it's history now I really have no desire to be anywhere else My dream is to see this program continue to grow and flourish My heart is here." End of Interview
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interviewed by Mark I. Greenberg.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (85 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 expanded summary (digital, PDF file)
USF 50th (2006) anniversary oral history project
Interview conducted March 11, 2004.
Jim Leavitt, head coach of the USF Football Team, discusses the early years of the football program and its continued growth. He also discusses academic focus in athletics and successful athletes.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
University of South Florida.
University of South Florida
Greenberg, Mark I.
University of South Florida Libraries.
Florida Studies Center.
Oral History Program.
University of South Florida.
y CLICK HERE TO ACCESS DIGITAL AUDIO AND EXPANDED SUMMARY