AU Mourns Loss of "Head Academics Coach"

The Auburn athletic department is mourning one of its most respected members.

Auburn, Ala.--Just hours after he stood with linebacker Chris Evans on the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium for Senior Day on Saturday, one of the most respected members of the Auburn University Athletic Department died unexpectedly on his way home from the game.

Virgil Starks, the Senior Associate Athletics Director for Student-Athlete Support Services at Auburn, was 46 years old and died of an apparent heart attack while driving home. A member of the AU staff since 1998, Starks worked with all of Auburn's intercollegiate athletes.

Starks (left) stands with Chris Evans at Senior Day on Saturday when Evans' parents couldn't make the trip.

"Words can't express the feelings of sorrow and mourning that we have at the passing of our dear friend Virgil Starks," Director of Athletics Jay Jacobs said on Sunday.

"Virgil was passionate about all facets of his life and cared for Auburn student-athletes as if they were his own children," Jacobs said. "He will be dearly missed by all that he touched. Our thoughts and prayers are with Virgil's family, friends and our Auburn Family in these difficult times."

Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville noted that he had worked closely with Starks over the years. "It was a shock to all of us," the coach noted.

"He had done a great job for us," Tuberville said. "I think he got here the year before I got here and he has been huge part of these kids being able to work toward an education and getting a degree, and playing football at the same time.

"He fought for the players real hard in a lot of situations on the hill (Samford Hall, administration building) over there--early registration and a lot of things that help a student-athlete, not just football, but all of our athletes."

Tuberville said that Starks was highly respected by the players and close to them. "He is kind of like a head coach in academics and sometimes players think he was a little too hard on them, but as I told them he was doing it for the betterment of them. He took his job seriously and he worked at it hard, day and night, and did a lot for the program."

A player that had a deep appreciate for Starks' efforts is Evans. That was obvious when they stood side by side on senior day Saturday. Evans said that Starks was more than just someone that looked after their educational issues, he was a friend.

"It was a pretty tough situation because over the past few years I have been here we had grown pretty close," Evans said. "He handled our academics and I met with him weekly. It hit me pretty hard.

"He volunteered to go out there with me," he added. "I was expecting to go out there by myself and take a picture. When I ran out there and ran past Aubie I saw him standing out there smiling and showing all 32 of his teeth like he always did. It was just one of those strange things. Over the past years I have been here he always went out of his way to put a smile on your face."

Starks, a native of Hartselle, is survived by his wife Donna and three daughters--Carolyn, Victoria and Anatasia. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Tigers Unlimited Foundation in memory of Virgil Starks. Those donations will benefit Starks' passion, the academic and life-skills enhancement of Auburn student-athletes.

Visitation will be on Tuesday at Jeffcoat-Trant Funeral Home in Opelika from 6-8 p.m. CST with the memorial service to be held on Nov. 12 at First Baptist Church in Auburn at 11 a.m. There will be an on-campus memorial service on Monday morning at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum for athletes to attend.

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