Tim Skipper bringing handy-man attitude to role on Gators staff
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — His former boss was in Florida attending to his new job. Tim Skipper was in Colorado performing his job as linebackers coach at Colorado State.
When Jim McElwain struck a deal to become Florida’s head coach prior to Colorado State’s appearance in the Las Vegas Bowl last month, Skipper and the rest of the Rams’ coaching staff pondered their futures the way Will Muschamp’s staff at Florida did.
Would McElwain ask them to come to Florida? Would Colorado State’s administration hire interim coach Dave Baldwin and retain McElwain’s staff? Would Skipper have options?
Skipper tried his best to keep it all in perspective.
"One of the things my dad told me is, ‘if you’re going to decide to be a coach you better get ready for change.’ So I was kind of prepared for it," Skipper said. "For me it was more of, ‘alright, let me take care of these kids that I’m coaching. Don’t let your own personal things get in the way.’ I didn’t really worry abut what was going to happen to me until after the game."
Turned out the 36-year-old Skipper had nothing to fret over. McElwain called after Colorado State’s loss to Utah in the bowl game and before he even knew what position was offered, Skipper said yes to a move to Florida.
"He just told me I had a job here," Skipper said. "I was ready to walk here."
Skipper’s arrival at UF marks the third time he has worked with McElwain, first as colleagues on Pat Hill’s staff at Fresno State for a season (2007), and for the last three seasons at Colorado State. The former Fresno State linebacker is switching back to offense.
Skipper is running backs coach at UF, a position he held at Fresno State from 2006-08.
Skipper said there was no hesitation in accepting McElwain’s offer. McElwain had no hesitation about moving his linebackers coach at Colorado State to running backs coach with the Gators.
"He was as good of a running backs coach as I’ve ever been around and did an outstanding job in our system at Fresno," McElwain said. "His ability and what he’s done on both sides of the ball make the guy invaluable."
It’s not like McElwain needs to coach Skipper up. Skipper’s father and older brother took care of that years ago.
Jim Skipper, Tim’s father, has more than 40 years of coaching experience, including 28 seasons in the NFL where he is currently running backs coach for the Carolina Panthers. Meanwhile, his brother Kelly started his coaching career in 1989 and recently finished his seventh season as the Oakland Raiders’ running backs coach.
During Tim’s freshman season as a 5-foot-7, 200-pound middle linebacker for the Bulldogs, Kelly was an assistant under Hill at Fresno State.
In Skipper’s case, coaching is truly in his blood.
"He grew up in it. He’s got pedigree," McElwain said. "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 of developing young men. That’s a key."
Based on first impressions, it’s easy to see why Skipper was the one assistant McElwain brought with him from Colorado State. Skipper’s enthusiasm and personable nature were on display recently when he met with reporters who cover the Gators regularly.
He inherits a young group of backs at Florida led by sophomore Kelvin Taylor, freshman Brandon Powell, and redshirt freshman Adam Lane, who stated his case for more playing time next season by rushing for 109 yards and earning Birmingham Bowl MVP honors on Jan. 3.
Skipper is eager to see what the group of backs can do in McElwain’s offense.
"He likes to use them in every single form, shape you can think of," Skipper said. "Coach Mac is very, very creative. You might be labeled as a running back but you can end up anywhere. We’re going to play to the strengths the kids have."
Skipper’s most notable pupil as a running backs coach is former Fresno State standout Ryan Mathews, who was a first-round pick of the San Diego Chargers in 2010. At Colorado State he helped develop linebacker Shaquil Barrett into the 2013 Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year.
New Gators offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier worked with Skipper in 2008 at Fresno State. Nussmeier was the offensive coordinator and Skipper the running backs coach, the same roles McElwain hired them for at Florida.
Nussmeier was impressed by the way Skipper coached and connected with his players.
"He’s outstanding," Nussmeier said. "You look at the production of the players had had at Fresno State, how he recruited to the position, what he did with those players — the guy’s a phenomenal coach."
Skipper overachieved as a player. Despite being very undersized — his role model was the late Sam Mills, a diminutive linebacker who was an NFL All-Pro and member of the Saints when Skipper’s father was a New Orleans assistant — Skipper finished with 418 career tackles at Fresno State, still second on the school’s all-time list.
Skipper coaches the same way he played. He will find a way to get the job done whatever the circumstances.
"Coach Mac kind of calls me the handy man," Skipper said. "If the toilet’s broke, he’s going to call me. If he’s got something going on, he’s going to call me."
Skipper will ask his position group to take the same approach.
"Those are some great kids in that room," Skipper said. "They’ve taken me in like I’ve been here forever. We’ve kind of got a little combination of thunder and lightning. You got Adam Lane in there, you got Kelvin Taylor and you got Brandon Powell, who brings a lot to the table. It’s going to be fun."