Lee Roy Selmon sold his vision for USF football to anybody willing to listen, turning skeptics into believers, promising that a commuter school in Tampa could compete with Florida State, Florida and Miami one day.
Perhaps some people laughed at the idea. But Selmon never stopped selling. Not after USF began playing football in 1997 with trailers for offices and meeting rooms. Not while he was the athletic director from 2001-04. Not after USF got facilities of its own. Not after the Bulls beat Florida State in 2009.
No. He kept selling that vision. Sold it to Skip Holtz when he came down to interview for the head coaching job in January 2010. Selmon, athletic director Doug Woolard and senior associate athletic director Bill McGillis met with Holtz for dinner in Orlando, a meeting that will probably forever stay with Holtz.
"He’s a big reason I'm here,” Holtz said Monday. “He was such a sincere man when I had an opportunity to sit down with him in Orlando … I don't know that I've ever been as impressed with a gentleman as I was with Lee Roy in one meeting. He sold me on what he thought this program could become. I said this is something I want to be part of.”
So what exactly was that sales pitch?
"Tampa, having the opportunity to be in the Big East, recruiting base, size of the school, leadership of the school," Holtz said. "He had worked from the ground up when a lot of people didn't think big-time football could work here in Tampa and would always be overshadowed by the programs like Florida, Florida State and Miami. His vision was this program could be as good as any in the country as we continued to build facilities."
Indeed, USF has beaten two of the teams nobody thought it could compete with, and has another showdown with Miami later in the year. He always embraced being an ambassador for this program, and sincerely made Tampa his home after starring with the Bucs for so many years. He has restaurants in the area. An expressway is named for him. His three children graduated from USF.
He was a constant presence, so his sudden death has been particularly hard to accept. In fact, Holtz met with Selmon last Monday, and the two talked about the opportunity to play at Notre Dame. Selmon was particularly thrilled. He had never been to South Bend and always wanted to see a game there. He told Holtz he could not wait to go. Players saw him on Wednesday, when he attended practice.
Two days later, Selmon suffered a stroke. The team said a prayer for him during its church service, and wore No. 63 sticker decals on their helmets Saturday against the Irish. Players placed the stickers were all over the locker room. Holtz had one on his cap as well. After the game, an emotional Holtz called Selmon a "founding father" of USF football and said, "I think the numbers on everybody's helmets, hat, shoes ... it shows the respect that everybody has for Lee Roy Selmon."
Selmon died at 56 on Sunday. Holtz, his players and the athletic department were completely shaken up. Jerrell Young spoke for the players and called him, "the most genuine man I've ever met." The university plans to honor Selmon, but wants to consult with the family first.
There are probably an infinite number of ways to pay tribute to a man who believed when nobody else did. But perhaps the ultimate tribute is to simply step onto the football field and play a game -- his vision fully realized.