Gym Teacher Whose Name Inspired Lynyrd Skynyrd Dies

Rockers got detention for long hair, but later made friends with educator

By Greg Wilson
|  Tuesday, Sep 21, 2010  |  Updated 8:30 AM CDT
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In Memoriam

Joe Gill, Express-Times Photo

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The Florida gym teacher who unwittingly named legendary southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd after giving detention to a pack of long-haired slackers, has died.

Leonard Skinner, the basketball coach and gym teacher who later became friends with the band, died Monday in Florida, his daughter said. He was 77.

Skinner died in his sleep at the St. Catherine Laboure Manor in Jacksonville, where he had been living for about a year, his daughter Susie Moore said. Skinner had Alzheimer's disease.

"Coach Skinner had such a profound impact on our youth that ultimately led us to naming the band, which you know as Lynyrd Skynyrd, after him," said band member Gary Rossington. "Looking back, I cannot imagine it any other way. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time."

Skinner was working at Robert E. Lee High School in Jacksonville in the late 1960s when he sent a group of students to the principal's office.

"It was against the school rules," Skinner told the Florida Times-Union in 2009. "I don't particularly like long hair on men, but again, it wasn't my rule."

The kids went on to form the band responsible for such hits as "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Free Bird." Three of the band members, including lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, were killed in a 1977 plane crash, but the survivors still tour and record.

Skinner, whose son was a fan of the band, eventually made friends with the rockers, who even performed at a Jacksonville bar the former coach owned.

Skinner's children said their father was never completely comfortable with being linked to the band but did grow to embrace it.

Selected Reading: The Associated Press, Lynyrd Skynyrd.com, The New York Times.

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