- Copeland served as AD at both Virginia and William and Mary
- He played on the offense line in football for Virginia
- Services will be Tuesday
Jim Copeland was remembered Saturday as a Hall of Fame athletic director and a gentleman of integrity, humility and humor.
Copeland, a former AD at William and Mary and the University of Virginia, died Friday evening at his Charlottesville home surrounded by family. He was 65 and had battled cancer for more than four years.
A Charlottesville native and 1967 U.Va. graduate, Copeland played offensive line for the Cavaliers and NFL's Cleveland Browns. After retiring from football, Copeland began his administraive career, at his alma mater.
"I always knew that Jim, to the best of his ability, was going to do the right thing," said Lawson Drinkard, an athletic department fundraiser at U.Va. during Copeland's tenure. "There's not but so many of those people around."
Drinkard was among several friends who in the last six weeks began raising money for an endowed Jefferson Scholarship at Virginia in Copeland's name. The group's goal was $125,000 by July 1.
As of Saturday, they had pledges for $476,000 from approximately 85 donors.
"The outpouring and generosity have been extraordinary," Drinkard said. "I can't tell you that's surprising, given the person we are doing it for."
The group planned to inform Copeland of the scholarship at a small party Saturday afternoon. He passed away 16 hours before, but not before his wife, Susan, told him about the grant.
Kim Record, an associate athletic director at Virginia under Copeland and now the AD at UNC Greensboro, laughed at the timing.
"He hated parties," she said, "especially parties in his honor."
Copeland's most recent honor came last year when the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics inducted him into its Hall of Fame. He was an AD for 27 years, starting at William and Mary in 1979 and conitinuing at Utah, Virginia and Southern Methodist, from where he retired in 2006, shortly before his cancer diagnosis.
Copeland's administrations were marked by athletic success and academic excellence.
"His vision started facilities development like the McCue Center, Klöckner Stadium, and the Aquatic & Fitness Center," Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage said in a statement. "Jim's biggest contributions, however, were in his character, integrity, and his professionalism. He was enthusiastic in his attention to the welfare of all student-athletes, particularly in matters related to (gender) equity."
Coaches who worked for Copeland found him patient, knowledgeable and direct.
""He was extremely supportive and always very fair," said former Virginia basketball coach Jeff Jones, now at American University. "I appreciated his style. You knew what he thought. There wasn't any games."
"Had he not been as supportive as he was, I might not still be here," said Jimmye Laycock, William and Mary's football coach for 30 seasons. "Some ADs come in, have a young coach who's struggling and want to make a change."
Old Dominion athletic director Wood Selig worked for Copeland at Virginia as a marketing director. He recalled Copeland as "a great AD. He understood it from so many different perspectives, as a student-athlete, administrator, fundraiser.
"His laugh was contagious. I can still hear it. You'd start laughing with him and you couldn't stop because he couldn't stop. His smile would take over his entire face."
In a statement, ACC commissioner John Swofford called Copeland "a very principled person with great integrity and a wonderful friend as well as professional colleague."
Copeland's principles were supremely tested in 1991, when Drinkard discovered that Virginia's athletics fund-raising arm had loaned money to athletes. The loans violated NCAA rules governing extra benefits.
To the dismay of many boosters, Copeland not only reported the loans to the NCAA but also informed media. Nearly two years later, the NCAA placed Virginia on two years' probation for the infractions, and NCAA executive director Dick Schultz, Virginia's AD when the loans were made, resigned his NCAA position under pressure.
Copeland "did the right thing, which speaks to his integrity," Selig said. "He wasn't going to compromise his values, even if it (jeopardized) his job, even if it was an unpopular stance. I'll always respect him for that."
Copeland left Virginia in 1994 for SMU, but rejected the notion that he was forced to resign.
"If I felt somebody was about ready to get me, I wouldn't be going to SMU," he said then. "I'm very competitive and I still have a lot of offensive lineman in me, I really do."
The gruff, pugnacious lineman had a soft side, too. He doted on his grandchildren and was quick to help friends in need, with a call, note or book of devotionals. His daily readings included the Bible.
"I consider him more than a former boss," Jones said. "I consider him a friend. I have a lot of admiration for Jim and his character."
Copeland is survived by his wife, three children, six granchildren and two siblings. His funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m., Tuesday at Charlottesville's Christ Episcopal Church.
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