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Tuesday September 2, 2003Norm Carlson Looks Back... - Tom Sebring

By Norm Carlson

Tom Sebring was the Gators' seventh head football coach, serving in that capacity from 1925-27. In all probability he is the most unique person who has ever held that position at the University of Florida.

His record of accomplishments speaks for itself:

  • Highly decorated World War I combat soldier.
  • Star athlete in three sports at Kansas State University. All Missouri Valley Conference end in football.
  • Assistant football coach and head coach in track and boxing at the University of Florida.
  • Head Football Coach for the Gators.
  • Graduate of the UF College of Law.
  • Lawyer and Football Referee
  • Justice and Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court.
  • Judge at Nuremberg War Trials following World War II
  • Dean of Stetson University Law School.

During World War I Sebring was awarded the Silver Star with an oakleaf cluster, indicating that he was awarded this medal twice for gallantry in action. He spent 22 months overseas, and 13 months in combat. He fought in the battle for control of the Aisne Valley and the Marne River crossing, one of the bitterest battles of the War.

After the War he enrolled at Kansas State. He was elected president of the freshman class, and became a star athlete on the boxing, track and football teams. He played end in football, setting a record for pass receptions in a game and also doing the placekicking. He earned first team All Missouri Valley Conference honors in 1921-1922. He was also named to the "Kansas State Aggies All-Time Football Team."

During his career at Kansas State Sebring was coached for one season by Major James A. Van Fleet, who hired him as an assistant coach at Florida in 1923. When Van Fleet left for other military duty after the l924 season Sebring was promoted to head football coach.

Sebring was regarded as a creative, brilliant innovator as a coach. He designed offensive systems that were ahead of the times. His l925 team finished 8-2, the best record in school history up to that point, and outscored the opposition 222-80. Following a difficult 2-6-2 year in l926, the Gators finished with a 7-3 mark in l927, beating Auburn and Alabama on the road. He also had recruited the starters for the 1928 team that finished 8-1 and led the nation in scoring.

By that time he had earned his law degree, married Elise Bishop of Gainesville, and started a law practice in Miami. They moved to Jacksonville in late l928 and while practicing law there he began officiating college football games.

He was sworn in as a justice of the Supreme Court of Florida early in l943. In l946 he was chosen as a judge in the Nuremberg Trial of Nazi war criminals, and he served in that capacity during that year and a portion of l947. Of the 177 defendants in the trials, 142 were convicted, twenty-six were sentenced to death and the remainder received prison terms ranging from five to 25 years.

Sebring served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Florida from 1951-53, and as Dean of the Stetson University Law School from l955-l968. He passed away in l968 at the age of 70.

There is a detailed account of the life of Tom Sebring in an excellent article by Bruce R. Jacob in the Summer 2000 edition of the Stetson Law Review. It is titled "Remembering a Great Dean: Harold L. "Tom" Sebring.

By Jacobs account Sebring was a great dean. He was also a great war hero, athlete and coach who played a crucial role in the roaring '20s of Gator football.

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