By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA - Before Bulls even had a football coach, they had Lee Roy Selmon.
The NFL Hall of Famer stood tall, his broad shoulders covered with a USF shirt as he looked up at a football in flight with the school's name depicted boldly in between the seams.
The day was Sept. 15, 1995 and the poster with the famous photo of Selmon served as a declaration that the Bulls were approved for a football venture that has struck gold with followers since that day.
Sure Selmon was already very well known at that point. The former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end had been to six Pro Bowls and stood alone in 1979 as the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
But Selmon was much more than a face and a fancy name at USF, which will forever remember the man who passed away Sunday and left countless people in mourning.
"This is a tremendous loss for not only USF Athletics and the University of South Florida but for the entire Tampa Bay Area. I've lost a very special friend and colleague," USF Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Doug Woolard said in a statement. "Lee Roy Selmon stands for everything that's right not only in football but everything that's right in life. I've never been around anyone with more class and integrity in my life."
Rewind time back to 1993 and you'd find Selmon making an instant impact at USF.
"When he was hired it was hard to picture us not playing football," said Jim Louk, who has served in a number of athletics roles for USF dating back to 1983.
Still, the task was a very tall one.
Permission had to be gained from the then-Florida Board of Regents, which wasn't leaning in USF's favor at the time.
USF decided to launch a campaign, chaired by Frank Morsani, to raise funds for a football program and brought Selmon out of the banking business and into an associate athletic director role with the Bulls.
USF had to raise $5 million in funds to start a football program Selmon was there to push it along as strongly as he moved offensive linemen back in his playing days. His celebrity helped the university grab attention and his strong reputation helped gain the political and financial support needed to make a football dream become a reality.
Selmon served as the Bulls' director of athletics from 2001-04, providing even more credibility to a program that is still building to this day. As an athletic director, Selmon worked tirelessly to make sure every detail in regards to USF Athletics was taken care - appointment after appointment.
"He'd see everyone," Louk said.
After stepping down from the AD position, Selmon's association with USF didn't stray and neither did his fundraising efforts. All the way up to his final days, Selmon served as President for the USF Foundation Partnership for Athletics.
It was Lee Roy Selmon who envisioned the creation of a new Athletics District at USF, and Lee Roy Selmon who raised much of the dollars needed to make it a reality.
No matter what role he had with USF, Selmon's greatest passion was the student-athletes. He wanted to make sure they graduated and left with the tools necessary to be smart, successful and committed to high character. His door was always open to any student-athlete.
"We all loved him, and we're all deeply saddened. We're a better university because of Lee Roy Selmon," USF President Judy Genshaft said in a statement. "He was an incredible role model, who cared about all of our student-athletes, no matter what sport. He built an incredible legacy and he will never be forgotten."