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One year later: Remembering Lee Roy Selmon

Published: Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, September 5, 2012 15:09

Two days after suffering from a stroke and just one day after watching the USF Bulls pick up one of the biggest wins in program history, Tampa Bay legend and former USF Athletic Director Lee Roy Selmon passed away at the age of 56 on September 4 last year.


Hours after the school and athletic program celebrated a breakthrough, program-defining victory, they mourned the loss of the man most responsible for the state of the athletic program itself.  

One year after his death, his impact and legacy are still evident around the school’s athletics department.


“Having somebody like that on your side is amazing,” senior running back Demetris Murray said. “He was the true epitome of being a Bull. He came here every day, had a smile on his face and loved what he did. It’s really heavy on our hearts this week, knowing it’s been a year already. I know a lot of guys will play with that on their minds.”


The Oracle remembers the man who changed the University of South Florida athletics department forever.


College years
Selmon’s college career began in Oklahoma, where he joined his brothers Lucious and Dewey Selmon on the vaunted Oklahoma Sooner defense. He had his breakout moment in 1974, when he helped lead the Sooners to a national championship.


Selmon returned to the top of the college football world in 1975, carrying the Sooners to their second consecutive national championship and turning heads around the country on the way to the Lombardi Award, given to the best defensive player, and the Outland Trophy, given to the best lineman in the nation.


Professional years
Selmon and the Tampa were linked immediately upon his entry into the NFL. As the first pick in the 1976 NFL Draft, Selmon became the first draft pick in the history of the newest expansion NFL team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After being drafted in 1976, Selmon won NFL rookie of the year and NFL most valuable player.


In the following years, Selmon led a turnaround in Tampa Bay. Three seasons after going 0-14, the Buccaneers went 10-6 and advanced to the National Football Conference Championship Game, which they lost to the Los Angeles Rams. He led the Buccaneers to the playoffs twice more in his final five seasons, and did enough to become the first — and to date the only — Tampa Bay Buccaneer in the Professional Football Hall of Fame.


After the NFL
The legacy of Selmon at USF began after his retirement from the NFL. Remaining in the Bay Area, Selmon began to involve himself with the university, becoming the assistant athletic director for the Bulls in 1993.


Through his connections and impact in the college sports landscape, Selmon did what was once unthinkable. He led the Bulls into the future: A future of football
games, a future of a sold-out Raymond James Stadium, a future of program-defining wins over Clemson, Auburn, West Virginia, Florida State and Miami. In 1997, under the watchful guidance of Tampa Bay’s gentle giant, the USF Bulls took the field for the first football game in school history, an 80-3 win over Kentucky-Wesleyan.


After taking over as athletic director in 2001, Selmon continued his impact on the school’s athletic program, leading USF’s entry into both Conference USA and the Big East. Even after retiring in 2004, Selmon continued in his role as fundraiser as president of the USF Foundation Partnership for Athletics.


His impact was solidified after his passing in 2011, when his the new USF Athletic Building, was renamed the Lee Roy Selmon Athletics Center.


His legacy was not solely on the field. Senior quarterback B.J. Daniels said Selmon showed him the importance of life off the football field.


“I’ve had numerous encounters with him and one thing I can say is that he’s a big motivator, and he does it by example, by the type of person he is,” Daniels said. “One thing he always told me is win or lose, make sure you get your degree. Stay strong and hold your head up high because there is a lot to be thankful for.”


In a time when various university sports have begun to establish themselves as contenders across the athletics landscape, Selmon’s impact must be remembered. With appearances in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, NCAA men’s soccer Elite Eight, Women’s College World Series, and countless big wins on the gridiron, the presence of Selmon is evident across the USF athletics spectrum, even a full year after his passing.


“I think this school is in the Big East in a large part because of Lee Roy Selmon and the impact he had on a lot of people as the athletic director here,” coach Skip Holtz said, “I think he changed the course of this athletic department forever and the image he presented with South Florida.”

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