The second-youngest member of head coach Jim McElwain’s recently-announced Florida Gators staff, running backs coach Tim Skipper, 36, has earned the nickname of “handy man” from McElwain due to his versatility.
Skipper is so trusted by McElwain that he was his assistant head coach at Colorado State, where he coached linebackers. Skipper has also coached defensive backs and coordinated defenses in college despite the fact that the rest of his family has made a name for themselves coaching running backs in the NFL.
Of course, Skipper has done that, too, most notably at Fresno State under McElwain, a stop where he recruited and coached up Ryan Mathews.
“He’s outstanding. Played for Coach [Pat] Hill as a linebacker, came back as a running backs coach, really wanted to go back and coach defense, begged him to stay on offense. You look at the production of the players he had at Fresno State, how he recruited to the position, what he did with those players, the guy is a phenomenal football coach,” said Florida offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier.
Added McElwain: “He was as good a running backs coach as I’ve ever been around and did an outstanding job in our systems at Fresno. His ability and what he’s done on both sides of the ball make the guy invaluable. Let’s talk about somebody teaching somebody to pick up protections. … He can get [players] to where they need to be.
“Obviously his father is a 30-year vet it he NFL as a running backs coach and offensive coach; his brother is an offensive coach in the NFL, he grew up in it. He’s got pedigree. He’s a guy I felt could coach any position because of his background. You want to talk about a guy that does a great job developing young men, that’s a key.”
Skipper related on Friday that when he wants to talk football with his father, he has to “pry it out of him.” Such is the case when your family is filled with coaches; no one wants to talk shop for too long once you get off the field.
“Obviously, he’s coached for a very, very long time. His main thing is just stay on the grind, stay on the grind. Whenever you think you’ve already accomplished something, you haven’t. You have to always think positive. You have to think about the next step,” Skipper explained.
But there is no overlooking his family’s accomplishments. Jim Skipper, the father, has coached running backs since 1979, in the NFL from 1986-present (except 2001); Kelly Skipper, the brother, has coached running backs since 1997 (in the NFL since 2002).
Their success and accomplishments do not translate to Tim Skipper, of course, who has always been told that he needs to go out and get things on his own. His father told him that if he wanted to be a football coach, he always needed to be prepared for change – possibly every single year – as coaches can be hired and fired whether winning or losing.
So over the last couple of months, Skipper kept his focus on CSU and its bowl game, until he got a call from McElwain to come to UF. He did not hesitate in giving an answer.
“I think it’s the place. Coach Mac first called me, you know he’s at the University of Florida and you’re hoping you’ll get that call. And then you start thinking of all the great things that have happened here, we’re talking as an athletic program the amount of winning that happens within each sport. And then you go to football and you look at how many guys have been drafted in the first round, how many guys have played in Super Bowls, and that type of thing, it gets your blood flowing. I was ready to walk here,” he said.
Skipper is so versatile a coach and was so excited to hear from McElwain, that he claims he was unsure what position he was even going to be coaching on the Gators staff.
“In fact, I don’t even know if he told me I was coaching running backs. He told me I had a job here, and I came. No hesitation. I don’t even know when that came up in the conversation. I found out when I got here,” he said with a smile.
Now that he is coaching running backs for Florida, Skipper noted that he will be able to use his own experience – plus that of his father and brother – as resources that he can lean on to help develop his systems with the Gators. But Skipper put a lot of the credit for his success to this point on his players, noting that he just “tells them it’s going left or right” and “they do the rest” after the ball gets in their hands.
At Florida, he sees a “little combination of thunder and lightning” with redshirt freshman Adam Lane and sophomore Kelvin Taylor. Skipper also believes freshman Brandon Powell “brings a lot to the table,” though more than anything he is pleased with how welcoming the running backs have been to him joining the program.
“The first thing I’ll say, those are some great kids in that room. They’ve taken me in like I’ve been here forever and everything’s been going good,” he said. “It’s like anything in life, man. If you treat people well, they’re going to treat you well. It’s a family-type atmosphere that we’ll have in that running back room. We’ll have each other’s back and we’ll go to work.”
Skipper’s plan of attack for the running backs will be to focus on the little things and details that he says “separates a guy from being great and being good.” That type of attention to detail will be important under McElwain’s offensive system.
“He likes to use [running backs] in every single form, shape that you can think of. Coach Mac is very, very creative. You might be labeled as a running back, but you can end up anywhere,” he explained. “Our big thing is we’re going to get in close and tight with these kids, we’re going to find out who does what and then we’re going to let him do that. We’re not going to have somebody do something that they’re not very good at. We’re going to play to the strengths of the kids that we have.”
Though he possesses a lot of attributes McElwain listed as must-haves, on the surface Skipper does not appear to have the Southeastern Conference experience that his coach desired from every assistant when building his staff. Skipper was quick to point out that while he has not coached in the SEC, he is more than familiar with the league.
“A lot of people don’t realize, I’m from New Orleans. My dad coached with the New Orleans Saints for a very long time. LSU was right down the road, spent a lot of time in that stadium and watching games,” he explained. “They actually recruited me for about 30 seconds and saw how short I was. [Laughing] As far as coaching, I have not coached it, but whatever conference you’re in, as far as I know there’s 11 guys on offense and 11 guys on defense. How you put those pieces together is what’s going to matter.”
Skippers and the rest of the Gators’ coaching staff is focused on recruiting for next month, but the man in charge of Florida’s rushing attack also has his eyes set on the start of the 2015 season, which for a young coach will be a unique and special situation.
“I’m excited for this opportunity. It’s going to be awesome. I’m ready to see The Swamp rocking and ready to get it going,” he said.