EXPIRED: 09/20/10 – Formby Leonard Skinner, 77, was a no-nonsense, flattopped basketball coach who hated rock and roll and long hair and will be forever associated with it.

Skinner was a jock and a gym teacher at Robert E. Lee High School, in Jacksonville, Florida. It was the same school he graduated from. The same school he met his future wife at. The same school he was working at when, in the late 1960s, he sent some kids to the principal’s office because their hair was too long.

One of those kids was Gary Rossington, who was learning to play guitar and trying to put together a band in the area.

The incident was soon forgotten by Skinner, but not by Rossington, whose band used a contorted version of the coach’s name  as their own: Lynyrd Skynyrd. Their 1973 debut was called  “Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd.”

But Skinner wasn’t really pissed. He had quit teaching Phys ed by then and opened a real estate office. He even allowed the band to use a photo of his Leonard Skinner Realty sign for the inside of their third album. For years, fans would call the phone number on the sign to reach the real Leonard Skinner. Their inevitable reaction, said Skinner: “Far out.”

Unfortunately, they were often really stoned and it was often 3 am.

Skinner eventually made friends with the band when they came to jam at The Still, a bar Skinner owned after retiring.  Skinner also named a couple of bars after himself, capitalizing on the fame of the name.

Years later, Lynyrd Skynyrd asked their namesake to introduce them at a concert in Jacksonville.

And just last year, friends organized a tribute to Skinner. There were three bands and a couple of hundred people in attendance, including Skynyrd fans, former students and those left from his military days.

They called it A Tribute to Coach Leonard Skinner & Southern Rock.

And with that, you’d think Skinner warmed up to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s music after all those decades.

“No,” he declared. “I don’t. I don’t like rock ‘n’ roll music. But they were good, talented, hard-working boys. They worked hard, lived hard and boozed hard.”

Nuff said, free bird.



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