Tim Skipper probably knew the conversation was coming even before Jim McElwain asked to speak to him. He’s in tuned with how volatile the coaching circuit is and he undoubtedly had read or heard the reports that the Florida Gators were interested in bringing JaJuan Seider on to its staff.
When the time finally came to meet with McElwain and discuss moving from coaching running backs to coaching linebackers, it wasn’t much of a conversation.
“I’m happy to be a Gator,” Skipper said after practice on Wednesday. “I said that when I first came here. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing. I’m happy to be here and I just want to win games.”
Skipper made the move with McElwain from Colorado State. In his first meeting with media members in Gainesville Skipper said he accepted the job at Florida without even knowing what position he would coach.
“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,” Skipper said in January 2015. “I don’t even know when that came up in the conversation. I found out when I got here.”
The move isn’t out of the blue. McElwain isn’t sacrificing coaching for recruiting, of which Skipper is one of the best coaches on staff; he was a freshman All-American, All-WAC linebacker and four-year starter at Fresno State. His 418 career tackles still rank second in school history. Skipper knows his way around the defensive side of the football and he has an intimate knowledge of the position.
“Skip’s done great and obviously it’s a place he’s comfortable with,” McElwain said of Skipper earlier this spring. “He’s been a defensive coordinator and coached linebackers, obviously, in the past. They haven’t missed a beat, and that’s a good thing.”
Coaching linebackers is the easy part. Having to tell his running backs about the move was more difficult.
“I just miss my RBs,” Skipper said. “I feel like a father figure to those guys and that was maybe the hardest part of it, having to leave those guys.”
“He recruited me so it hurt me a little bit,” Lamical Perine said. “I feel like he had to do what’s best for him. It’s all about a business over here.”
The way McElwain runs his organization, however, there is a lot of intermingling between the coaches and different position groups. Skipper said he was already familiar with all of the linebackers when he made the move over to defense and now that he’s coaching linebackers he’s still able to keep the same relationship with his former running backs.
“I didn’t die or anything like that. I’m still there,” he said when asked what it was like telling the running backs about his new role. “They still come in my office, still talk, all that type of stuff. Everything’s been good. It’s been hard but they understood and we just go from there.”
Skipper not only played linebacker but he’s coached the position before as well. He has a clear expectation of what a linebacker at the University of Florida should be and what they should play like. He laughed when asked if there were any “young Tim Skipper’s” in his linebacker room. He joked he “hoped not” that they were better than that, but he did give a clear vision of the kind of player he wants to see when he looks up in the linebackers’ meeting room.
“We want to be tough. We want to be physical. We want to reroute receivers. Everything’s stems from being a tough, hard nosed guy,” he said. “Everything takes care of itself once you get that type of physical quality.”