University loses visionary, mentor with death of Selmon

Lee Roy Selmon, former University of South Florida athletic director and Hall of Fame Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end, was a man with multiple claims to fame. To senior safety Jerrell Young, however, he will be remembered most for his smile.

“There was never a time I saw Lee Roy when he wasn’t smiling,” Young said of Selmon, who died Sunday afternoon after suffering a stroke two days prior. “He was one of the most genuine people ever. He would come on the field, and he would talk to me about my family, how my mom was doing, how my dad was doing. It’s a tragedy I still can’t believe happened. He was just at practice Wednesday.”

Selmon, who was 56, died “surrounded by family and friends” at St. Joseph’s Hospital, according to a statement released by his wife, Claybra Selmon. Lee Roy Selmon, the only member of the Buccaneers to have ever been inducted into the Hall of Fame, joined the USF athletic department in 1993 and was influential in creating the football program. He served as the program’s athletic director from 2001-04, before stepping down due to his health, and led fundraising for USF Athletics as president of the USF Foundation Partnership for Athletics.

“For all his accomplishments on and off the field, to us, Lee Roy was the rock of our family,” Claybra Selmon said in the statement. “This has been a sudden and shocking event, and we are devastated by this unexpected loss. We deeply appreciate the prayers and support shown by family, friends, the football community and the public.”

Selmon is remembered not only for his play on the field, but also for his continued dedication off the field. He was the driving force behind the success of USF Athletics and had a passion for student-athletes of all sports, said USF President Judy Genshaft.

“He was one that was always positive,” Genshaft said. “We would be sitting, watching games together, and he was always quiet, but he would say, ‘Stay strong. We’ll get there. We’ll get there.’ … When you have Lee Roy on your side, you can’t go wrong.”

The Bulls donned black No. 63 decals on their helmets to honor Selmon during their historic game against Notre Dame on Saturday after receiving news that he had been hospitalized. Genshaft said Selmon was looking forward to attending the game and “taking USF fans through the college football Hall of Fame,” where he is commemorated.

“I think the numbers on everybody’s helmets, hat, shoes, there were stickers in the locker room, guys were putting them everywhere, and I think it shows the respect that everybody has for Lee Roy Selmon,” said Bulls’ coach Skip Holtz. “I addressed it one time with the football team, and that was in our church service. That was the church service we addressed it, talked about where he was. But outside of that, we didn’t talk about it in the locker room or at any point in time about to play, but I think everybody was grabbing the stickers out of respect for Lee Roy Selmon.”

There is no doubt among the Tampa community that without Selmon, USF’s Athletic program would not be where it is today, Holtz said, and the news of his passing so shortly after earning one of the USF football program’s biggest wins to date “makes you realize what truly is important in life.”

“I’ve lost a special friend and a colleague,” said current USF Athletics Director Doug Woolard, “and will tell you that Lee Roy Selmon not only stands for everything that’s right about football, but he stands for everything that’s right about life. I’ve never been around a guy with any more class or any more integrity ever than Lee Roy Selmon.

“He and I had the chance to spend about an hour together in my office Thursday and talk about just a variety of topics,” Woolard said. “I know how much he was looking forward to going to the game at Notre Dame, and we even grabbed one of our student-athletes that was outside my office and … visited for about 15 to 20 minutes. It’s just magic to watch him and the way he interacted with student-athletes and the way he connected. I think with anyone who ever met him he was that way.”

For Young, that magic is something he and his teammates will remember every time they go out on the field.

“He’s the reason we’re doing what we’re doing,” he said. “Everyone knows he was the man that was going around knocking on people’s doors and getting donations (for the football program). Everyone loves him. He was a great man, probably the greatest man I’ve ever met in my lifetime. (He was) someone who never turned his back on anyone; someone who was always smiling and caring and always there for a person in need. There was never a time when I called him or asked him something that he turned his back on me.”

In lieu of flowers, the Selmon family has requested that donations be made to Abe Brown Ministries or the USF Foundation Partnership for Athletics.

According to a release, the Buccaneers organization, USF and the Tampa Sports Authority have designated the “tree-shaded mound in the middle of the mass transit drop-off turnaround on Dale Mabry” as a temporary memorial to Selmon, where the public can place flowers and pay their respects. “Drop-offs may begin Tuesday after 5 p.m. and continue through (the Bucs’ season opener against the Detroit Lions at 1 p.m.) Sunday, Sept. 11,” the release states.

Genshaft said the University will consult with Selmon’s family before deciding how it will commemorate Selmon in the future.