Published August 27. 2013 4:00AM
Bill Schmitz, a 1976 Coast Guard Academy graduate who later coached his alma mater to its first NCAA Division III football playoff appearance, died Monday in Florida of an apparent suicide.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office told the Tampa Tribune that Schmitz, 59, drove his 2010 Kia to the main span of the Sunshine Skyway bridge at 4:56 a.m., exited his car and jumped over the side of the railing into Tampa Bay.
His body, authorities told the Tribune, was recovered approximately four hours later.
Schmitz was teaching history and coaching the boys' track and field team at Land O' Lakes High School in Pasco County, Fla.
He served as offensive coordinator of the Land O' Lakes football team in 2011 and 2012, but was not coaching football this season, the Tribune said.
"When he came to us, the thing that attracted him to us was his resume, which had a lot of quality to it," Land O' Lakes principal Ric Mellin told the Tribune. "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."
Schmitz, who starred in football and basketball at Coast Guard, was inducted into the Academy's Athletic Hall of Fame in 2001.
He held assistant coaching positions at Division I schools Cincinnati, Rice, Vanderbilt and Eastern Michigan from 1981-1991 and spent the 1992 season as an assistant with the London Monarchs of the former World League before landing his first head coaching job at Coast Guard.
He guided the Bears to a 20-19 record over four seasons (1993-96), capped by an 8-2 regular season in 1996 that led to the program's first NCAA Division III playoff appearance, where Coast Guard lost 17-16 in the opening round to the College of New Jersey.
Schmitz left Coast Guard to become head coach at Austin Peay, a Division I-AA program in Clarksville, Tenn. He coached the Governors until 2002, was head coach of Tampa Jesuit High School in 2003 and 2004, and then spent two seasons as an assistant at Alabama-Birmingham and two more at the University of Pennsylvania before joining the faculty at Land O' Lakes.
Coast Guard athletic director Tim Fitzpatrick, in a statement released by the Academy on Monday, said: "We are very saddened to learn of the passing of coach Bill Schmitz, CGA Class of 1976. The athletics division coaches, staff and cadet-athletes send out thoughts, prayers and condolences to Bill's family during their time of loss.
"Those who had the pleasure of knowing Bill clearly recognized his pride in and great love for the Coast Guard Academy, the Bears football team and the Coast Guard itself. As the only CGA graduate to ever serve as the Academy's head football coach, Bill leaves a significant legacy of accomplishment - having led the Bears to their first-ever NCAA playoff berth in the 1996 season. However, Bill's greatest legacy is that of selfless service and commitment to his players, whose lives and careers and he impacted so positively."