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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Text of Jim Leavitt's remarks
By Times Staff Writer
Published July 29, 2007
Opening comments: "I appreciate being here. I really mean that. It does seem like our lives go by pretty quickly. . . . Our first year we were at Cypress Gardens in Orlando, Daytona Beach, and I remember how excited I got, I got so excited to see all the head coaches in the state of Florida and be able to shake their hand because I have never been a head coach.
I was all excited about it and I still am very excited about this opportunity because really you know you're getting close and it really does happen. You go through your whole summer and you take a few days off, but there are certain events that happen that really cause you to get focused in there and this is certainly one of them.
The BIG EAST meetings are another and you realize it's close, realize that your players are coming in and that you need to switch on. I do want to mention and say it in public to all of you is how much we, I know Doug (USF Director of Athletics Doug Woolard) and Bill (Senior Associate Athletics Director/External Affairs Bill McGillis) are here, how much we appreciate John Gerdes (outgoing Assistant Athletics Director/Sports Information who has taken the job as Director of Athletics at St. Petersburg Catholic High School) and all that he has done at the University of South Florida.
He's been with me for about 80 years, it seems like, and has been absolutely tremendous, and we are going to miss John a great deal and I just want to say that to you, John, I really appreciate all that you have done-You've done so much. With that I could go on and ramble about everything, which you probably don't want to hear since you have certain questions and you don't want to be here all day. So I am going to open it up to questions you may have and go from there."
About being ranked in select preseason Top-25 polls: "I don't know if anyone gets caught up in it too much. It's nice, but we all know it comes down to playing. You have to play during your season.
There are a number of 25 top-ranked-teams in the country that will end up there at the end of the year and some that don't. It has nothing to really do with how your going to play or those things. Our guys are confident. They feel like they could play anywhere and have a chance, have a chance to win or lose. But I am more focused on just getting out there and practicing and getting our team ready."
On the importance of the West Virginia victory and the recognition for the program: "It was big. It was big to go to Morgantown and win. There is a moment that I will always remember and hopefully I'll remember other moments, but this one in particular I will.
Quite honestly we didn't have a very good football team last year. We started the season and we barely won our first number of games and what happened was I just saw this football team really improve like I had never seen a team improve and stay with it and work through a lot of adversity and you know how hard these guys work and how they train and come out there and play with the kind of confidence they played and won right there meant a lot. And winning is good and certainly winning there (in Morgantown) is a good thing. So those things help."
On sophomore linebacker Chris Robinson: "Chris had a great game last year, in the West Virginia game, and that is really where he came into his own.
Chris is as talented as most linebackers out there. He can play. He is a great guy, I mean a fun guy to be around - for me. He's tall, about 6-4, about close to 240 (pounds) and runs extremely well.
He is starting to understand what this is all about right now. This is his third year. Chris can do some pretty god things. We're expecting a lot out of him this year because Stephen Nicholas (now with the Atlanta Falcons) was such a great player for us and such a great leader. Chris will go in a take his place and start. He'll be right there next to (senior linebacker) Ben Moffitt. We're hoping that he really has a good year."
On Chris Robinson being so versatile and playing in several defensive situations: "When we play our straight defense he is out there, but when we go to our nickel package he is one of our best pass rushers also.
So instead of taking him off the field we may take another defensive end off the field that may not be as good in the pass rush as him. He enjoys that. He enjoys rushing the quarterback and seeing if he can get a sack. We do so many things with our D-ends (defensive ends). We drop and rush them, we do so many things."
On whether there is a priority on having sophomore quarterback Matt Grothe run less this year: "People always say that you want to run him less because you don't want him to get hurt as much, but when you take that part out of our offense, our offense is not as productive.
When you try to guard against the quarterback, not only throwing but running, that's a very difficult challenge for the defense. So, I don't know. I think it's doing to depend on what we feel we can do against different teams, where we can have our most success.
We certainly want to strengthen our running game, and our running game does include Matt, but we also really want to look at some of the other running backs we've got in right now. We're certainly real excited about Ben (junior running back Benjamin Williams) coming back, he's done a great job. That young man has a work ethic that has been a key for our offense.
But we also have some guys involved now, (freshman running back) Mike Ford, we'll see what Mike does. Mike's a pretty big guy. He's now a great running back right now but he might become that as he works through the season. Aston Samuels (freshman running back) has great speed. We wanted to play him last year but he just wasn't ready so we redshirted him. Shawn Cannon (junior running back), Shawn weighs in at about 220 (pounds), at six-foot and he plays hard. So we think that we have a few guys that might give us some good things. We have (sophomore running back) Moise Plancher back. I just saw Moise yesterday and we fully expected to be back in the hunt (after a season ending knee injury in 2006). We have some guys where we need to find out what they can do at running back."
On Florida Atlantic head coach Howard Schnellenberger and Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden coaching into their 70s and whether Coach Leavitt can see himself doing it in his future: "Not really. I just try to see myself getting home today. I can't think that far ahead. I really can't. That amazing isn't it. That's amazing. I don't think that way."
On why both coaches are continuing to coach into their 70s: "Shoot they'd probably be playing right now if they could play. They would probably rather play than coach but coaching is the next best thing.
I'll bet that coach Schnellenberger and coach Bowden probably go out there and nock the dog out of somebody if they put some pads on. I mean they love the game. They have great passion for the game, why should they stop. They do a great job and they are great coaches.
They should be able to coach forever as long as they want to coach. They are going to know when the time comes to not coach. They're going to know when the passion, may be isn't there - it'll always going to be there - but maybe it's just time. They're the only ones that will be able to say that. But those guys are legends, and legends in this state, the state of Florida. I mean how lucky we are to have two of the greatest legends in college football in this state. It's really something."
On three of the first four games being against Auburn, North Carolina and West Virginia and what a challenge it poses: "It is a great challenge. We had the same thing a few years ago when we opened with Penn State. That year Penn State had a pretty good year. They played Florida State in the Orange Bowl at the end. We knew Penn State was good - we didn't know that they were going to be that good - and we ended up playing them pretty tough which kind of showed that we had a chance to be pretty good.
Then we were fortunate to beat Central Florida, which is always an emotional game for both teams, and then we beat Louisville in that big game. Then we went down to the Orange Bowl to play Miami, so it's not like we haven't been in those situations before.
When you get in those situations you have got to take them one game at a time - more than ever, because if you get a head of yourself you're done. All three of those are very good. And you know, you get worried not talking about Elon. Nobody wants to talk about Elon, because of Auburn and national TV, and North Carolina, but last year we were down in the third quarter against McNeese State, a I-AA team.
So, I'm not worried about getting our guys ready to play against Auburn, because I know they will be excited. I actually hope they don't get to excited. But I really want them to focus on Elon. I really want them to go about it that way because it is a great guard as we go into the next three."
On USF becoming the "Next Job" instead of a job that is a stepping stone to a bigger school: "The Tampa area is a pretty good place, the University of South Florida is a pretty good school and Raymond James Stadium is a pretty good stadium. You just have to continue to recruit, to build, I mean you just have to stay with it, stay focused.
You have to look at the big picture. It's not just this year, it's the next four or five years. For me, I never considered it that way (as a stepping stone), honestly. When I was offered the head job at South Florida, and I'm sincere about this, I never thought I would ever go anywhere. I grew up here. I knew it would be a Division I job, then you get in a BCS conference. I really, honestly, don't know where there is a better job for Jim Leavitt. I mean that. I don't know and I can't imagine.
Even when other opportunities have come around I have never felt near as comfortable as I did here at the University of South Florida. South Florida has been real good to me. I understand where there is a lot of work to be done. Sure we're not there; we need to build to build more facilities. We need to do this and to do that. But isn't that great, to know that we have a challenge in front of us, to know that we need to do some more things. To me I love this, I love the process.
But the great thing is that you know it can happen. You know that you have the resources here. I've always been told that the University of South Florida is going to be as good as the Tampa area wants it to be, and I have no doubt about that."
On the strength of the secondary and how junior defensive back Mike Jenkins and senior defensive back Trae Williams can affect a game: "They can affect it well. They're good. Trae and Mike both had a very good summer. They are very focused, they are very good and very talented players. They are talented because they understand that they have to work, they can't lay their helmet on the field and they need to get it done.
The secondary, we get junior defensive back) Carlton Williams back, Gachette (junior defensive back Louis Gachette) back, those guys are very good football players. We're real excited about (sophomore defensive back) Nate Allen. Nate Allen has a chance to be pretty special, he really does. He's got great speed, size, it's hard to find a free safety that can run, hit, cover, is smart and run the whole defense. Jerome Murphy (sophomore defensive back), Jerome Murphy is really good, really good when he comes in and plays that nickel, and (junior defensive back) Tyller Roberts.
We have some depth in the secondary this year. On top of all that, we're also going to move (former quarterback and junior) Carlton Hill over (to the secondary). I don't know how good he'll be. He's a big old guy who can run. I don't know if he'll hit anybody, I don't know if he'll be disciplined in the defense, there is a lot that I don't know about him yet - as far as him at free safety - but we're going to find out. If a bunch of those things go good, then it'll be good, if not, we'll just have to wait and see."
On the USF vs. UCF series: "I have no thoughts really. I don't get too far ahead of myself. I know it will be a great game, we all know that. It was last year. If you look at the game Central Florida is down there with a chance to tie and send that game into overtime or go for two and win. They were down on the 8-yard line, we get a sack, get the ball otherwise they can win the game.
I know how good they are, they are very talented. We're going to have to play a great game to win, they are going to have to play a great game to win and it will be a really good game. We have a bunch of tough teams that we will play this year and they will be just as tough as anyone else."
On USF becoming a state power in college football: "In order to become one of the state powers you have to beat them. A lot of people have already played Florida, Florida State and Miami, but I've always said that you have to beat them. If you want to be apart of those three schools you have to beat them. If you don't beat them you are just another team taking a shot at them."
On the Miami series: "You know we have talked about this a bunch. There is no doubt that you had to align somewhere. Florida and Florida State are not real anxious to come to Tampa. It just seemed like through the year's that was the school to focus in on.
If you were ever to have a chance to have a shot at this thing, that was the school that might talk to you about a home-and-home series. I think what is really important is that it is a six-year deal, three in Miami and three in Tampa. Now we have already played one in Miami so three of the next five will be in Tampa. That, to me, is really important. It's not, "well we're going to play three in Miami and one in Tampa."
I remember calling Bob (Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops when scheduling the Bulls for the 2002 season) and him saying we'll play you three times in Oklahoma and once in Tampa. I said, "What, are you kidding me?"
I want to do a home and home and I really appreciate Doug, because you are never going to build the perception of a program by going out and playing money games and where you put yourself out playing two-for-ones and three-for-ones. You have to stand up for yourself and we're doing that. When Miami signed that deal it showed the perception that we are a BCS school, we have the opportunity to have that game on national television with the Florida-Florida State game, and to me that puts you in some pretty good company. Now you better recruit well or I hade better find different places and do different things."
Should the state's big three college football schools now be looked at the big four including USF? "No, not until we beat them. We don't ever beat Miami I don't know why you would. Let's be honest, we can play that game all we want and everybody goes are they or aren't they?
People will say "oh come on, South Florida, they have only been playing five years of I-A football. They don't deserve that. I agree. You have to beat them. Now if we beat them, if that ever happens, if that "miracle" as people says, how could they ever do that? If we ever get that done, then I'd say you better start considering that. But let's be honest, you have to beat people. They deserve to be where they are. Those three programs deserve what they have."