A Land O’ Lakes High School teacher and coach died in an apparent suicide leap from the Sunshine Skyway bridge early Monday, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.
William J. Schmitz, who taught history and coached the boys track team at the Pasco County school, was 59.
Schmitz drove his 2010 Kia to the Skyway’s main span at 4:56 a.m., exited his vehicle and jumped over the side of the railing, according to a sheriff’s office report. The body was recovered about four hours later, the sheriff’s office said.
Schmitz, a former college football coach, also was Land O’ Lakes’ offensive coordinator in 2011 and 2012.
The football team canceled practice Monday.
One of the Pasco school district’s crisis teams, which provide counseling to students and staff, was at the Land O’ Lakes High School on Monday, district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said.
At the beginning of sixth-period, school administrators and the crisis team brought the football and track teams together and told them Schmitz had died, but didn’t discuss how he died because the district hadn’t received confirmation from the Hillsborough sheriff’s office, Cobbe said.
“Quite a few of the kids were upset about it,” she said.
The football coach called the football team together again for a meeting in seventh-period, she said, and a schoolwide announcement was made saying that Schmitz had died.
By the end of the day, students were beginning to hear more details about Schmitz’s death.
“If kids asked about it, they would talk about it,” Cobbe said.
Land O’ Lakes Principal Ric Mellin said once he was informed what happened, he assembled a group of administrators, school councilors, and the district’s crisis team to begin notifying the staff and then students.
“In this day and age, information gets out quickly, so we wanted to ensure that we were the one’s providing the information instead of hearing through a newspaper or second hand,” Mellin said. “... When an unexpected death like this occurs, people are shocked and they grieve. Many of our school family were visibly upset over the news.”
The crisis team is scheduled to return to the school today, and Mellin was recording a telephone message that would go out to parents, Cobbe said.
Schmitz also served as Jesuit High’s head football coach in 2004, leading the team to the 2004 Class 3A region final.
Schmitz compiled a 39-65 record as head coach the Coast Guard Academy (1993-96) and Austin Peay (1997-2002). He was also an assistant coach at several colleges, including Cincinnati and Alabama-Birmingham.
He was named the Pasco Tribune’s boys track Coach of this Year this spring.
“When he came to us, the thing that attracted him to us was his resume, which had a lot of quality to it,” Mellin said. “He was also humbled to have the opportunity to start over again, He embraced the notion of not only teaching on the field, but teaching in the classroom. He was very open to being the best teacher he could be and I admired him for taking that stance because he always wanted what was best for his students — on the field of play, but more importantly in the classroom as well.”
Players and students reacted to Schmitz’s death on Twitter:
“RIP Schmitz. Hands down one of the best guys I’ve ever met. These tears suck man #InShock,” tweeted senior Shaheed Salmon.
“I know Coach Schmitz is in heaven drinking a Coke and talking to God about how to run the football down someone throat,” football player Jamal Wells tweeted.
“#RIP Coach Bill Schmitz if there was any person that brought the best out of anyone it was him,” added football player Liam Heaney.
Tribune staff writers Ronnie Blair and Eddie Daniels contributed to this report.