CHARLOTTE – Jim Skipper, the Panthers’ running backs coach for 15 of the past 17 seasons, is retiring after spending nearly half his life coaching in the NFL.
Skipper, age 70, served as running backs coach for five different NFL franchises over 32 seasons and coached nine different 1,000-yard rushers along the way. He coached Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, the two leading rushers in Panthers history, and capped his career by helping Christian McCaffrey amass a franchise-record 1,965 yards from scrimmage this past season.
"I was blessed. I had a tremendous ride," Skipper said. "It’s time to start smelling the roses. I’ve been here 15 years and I’ll miss the people."
The Panthers finished in the top 10 in rushing offense in each of Skipper’s final five seasons and had a 30-game streak of 100-yard rushing games under Skipper from 2014-16 – the longest streak in the NFL since the Steelers in the 1970s.
Affectionately known as “Skip” to his players, Skipper got his start in the NFL with the Saints, spending a decade in native Louisiana beginning in 1986 before spending one season in the same role with the Cardinals in 1996 and then four seasons with the Giants.
The one year he didn’t coach in the NFL after making his debut, in 2001, he served as head coach for the San Francisco Demons of the XFL. He began his long run with the Panthers the next year, joining first-year head coach John Fox in Carolina in 2002. After Fox departed, Skipper helped Chris Johnson record a pair of 1,000-yard seasons with the Titans in 2011 and 2012 before returning to the Panthers under head coach Ron Rivera.
"Skip’s special, he really is," Rivera said. "This game’s about people and when you’re fortunate enough to have a person like him working with you, I think it really helps your career. I know he helped mine tremendously. He was a head coach in the old XFL and has so much experience and knowledge coaching for as long as he did. He helped me a great deal along the way, and I know a lot of players feel the same way."
Skipper can claim a long list of signature moments with the Panthers. In 2003, Carolina signed free agent running back Stephen Davis, and under Skipper’s tutelage Davis piled up a then-franchise record 1,444 rushing yards and was among the principal reasons the Panthers advanced to Super Bowl XXXVIII.
The rushing mark fell in 2008 when Williams gained 1,515 yards on the ground and scored 18 times – both still team records. The next year, Williams and Stewart became the only teammates in NFL history to amass 1,100 rushing yards apiece in the same season. An injury stopped Stewart just short of his second 1,000-yard season in 2015, but he earned his lone Pro Bowl appearance while helping Carolina reach Super Bowl 50.
Skipper is the only coach that was on the Panthers' coaching staff for both of the franchise's Super Bowl appearances.
"The Panthers are always going to be at the tip of my heart," Skipper said. "Always."
While Skipper made sure several standout backs stayed on track, what he accomplished in 2004 ranks right there with those spectacular statistical seasons. Injuries forced Skipper and the Panthers to turn to four different starting running backs, but over the second half of the season undrafted back Nick Goings topped 100 rushing yards in five games.
A native of Breaux Bridge, La., who grew up in Brawley, Calif., Skipper played defensive back and was a return man at Whittier College in the early 1970s. He and his wife, ElMarie, have three sons who all work in football.