NPR logo Leonard Skinner -- The Coach Who's Part Of Rock 'N' Roll History -- Has Died

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Leonard Skinner — The Coach Who's Part Of Rock 'N' Roll History — Has Died

Fire up your old copies of Freebird (and play the scratchy LP for gosh sakes, not some MP3):

"Leonard Skinner, the no-nonsense, flattopped basketball coach and gym teacher whose name is forever linked with Jacksonville’s legendary Lynyrd Skynyrd, died in his sleep early Monday morning. He was 77." (Florida Times-Union)

This is huge news for those of us who were high schoolers in the '70s.

Even many of us northerners loved the bands from the South — the Allmans, Charlie Daniels, Marshall Tucker — and, of course, Skynyrd. Three guitars. Not always politically correct ("I hope Neil Young will remember, Southern Man don't need him around!"). And tragic, after the 1977 plane crash that killed singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, singer Cassie Gaines and three others.

Part of the band's attraction was also the name. If you were a guy with long hair in the '60s and early '70s you very well might have been disciplined at some point by a teacher who thought you were breaking some sort of dress code. Skinner, as the Times-Union recounts, once sent young Gary Rossington and some other boys to the principal's office at Robert E. Lee High School, in Jacksonville because their hair was too long.

Rossington turned out to be a great guitarist — and one of the founders of a band that decided to take the old gym coach's name in a bit of vain. That was just awesome to every guy who'd had an experience like Rossington's.

It seems that Skinner didn't really remember the guys in the band from their school days and that he probably wasn't all that mean to them either. He was just enforcing the rules. Still, his name — in that wonderfully wacky way it was respelled — became part of rock 'n' roll legend.

So, again, play some Freebird. Or Sweet Home Alabama. Maybe Gimme Three Steps.

For Leonard.