Deputies: Land O' Lakes coach dies in leap from Skyway

By Cait McVey, Reporter
Last Updated: Tuesday, August 27, 2013, 7:21 AM EDT

A Land O' Lakes High School teacher and coach died Monday in an apparent suicide jump from the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, according to authorities.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said William J. Schmitz, 59, of Land O' Lakes drove his 2010 Kia to the center span of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge around 5 a.m. He left his vehicle and jumped over the side of the railing, a news release said.

Schmitz's body was recovered about four hours later, deputies said.

"They called the track and football people to a room and told them personally. And then they made an announcement in 7th period over the intercom,” said Julia Watson, a student. "There was a lot of people crying. It was depressing. The atmosphere was just sad."

Schmitz was a college head football coach at Austin Peay and an assistant at Cincinnati, Vanderbilt and Alabama-Birmingham before becoming head coach at Tampa Jesuit in 2003. He led the Tigers to the 2004 Class 3A region final.

At Land O' Lakes, Schmitz taught history and coached the boys' track team. He was not on the football staff this season, but had been offensive coordinator for the Gators in 2011 and 2012.

Land O' Lakes players were already expressing their grief on Twitter, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

"I want to say RIP to one of my past coaches Bill Schmitz he taught me everything I know about the game of football and being a better person," junior Kamal Wells wrote.

"RIP Schmitz. Hands down one of the best guys I've ever met. These tears suck man. #InShock ... Im plahying thi sseason for you #RIP," senior Shaheed Salmon tweeted.

"They called the track and football people to a room and told them personally. And then they made an announcement in 7th period over the intercom,” said Julia Watson, a student. "There was a lot of people crying. It was depressing. The atmosphere was just sad."

Students say Schmitz had shown no signs that anything was wrong.

"Everything seemed perfectly ok. Nothing was wrong. So it comes as a real big surprise that he is gone,” said Jenna Shavor, a student.” And I know he made a real big impact on the students. He wasn't just a coach. He was also a mentor and a friend to most people."