In a generation of college football where programs are seeking out the next hotshot coaching wunderkind to bolster their offense with various plays and packages, Rich Skrosky is a throwback to an era that’s seemingly passed.
FIU’s 56-year-old offensive coordinator won’t be seen on social media hyping up announcements of college scholarship offers from players the Panthers are recruiting or sending out tweets proclaiming the virtues of his offense to attract attention his way.
Instead, he’s routinely found inside the Panthers’ football offices at the R. Kirk Landon Fieldhouse in the wee hours of the night, looking to perfect the details of the gameplan for the upcoming week’s opponent.
During Skrosky’s three seasons at the helm of the offense, FIU is one of four programs in the nation to have multiple quarterbacks drafted since the start of the 2018 season; Houston Texans’ quarterback Alex McGough in 2018 and New York Jets’ quarterback James Morgan in 2020.
Additionally, the program has signed its highest-rated quarterback recruits (Stone Norton and Haden Carlson) in program history during the 2019 and 2020 recruiting cycles, respectively.
FIU has sent more quarterbacks to the NFL since Skrosky’s arrival than the rest of Florida’s FBS programs in the last five seasons combined.
In fact, each of his FBS coaching stops have produced a quarterback selected in the NFL Draft (Keith Wenning at Ball State, McGough and Morgan at FIU).
However, this wasn’t part of the plan for the well-traveled 36-year coaching veteran, who’s had stops at Ball State and Elon before landing in South Florida with FIU.
“When I left Ball State to be the head coach at Elon, I took that job saying this might be the last job. My wife and I liked the Carolinas and like what Elon stands for as a school, but maybe as you get older – you understand yourself better. I think the role that I’m in as an offensive coordinator and QB coach is one that I’ve excelled at and, I’m comfortable in,” said Skrosky.
He and his wife Suzanne still maintain a residence in the region and are currently there during the COVID-19 outbreak that’s forced college campuses to close.
A month after Butch Davis took over as head coach of the Panthers and three years into Skrosky’s tenure at the helm of Elon, he resigned to take the offensive coordinator role with FIU.
While the two never coached together, a mutual professional relationship brought them together in Miami.
“John Shoop (Skrosky coached under Shoop’s brother, Bob, at Columbia) was the connection that linked us together,” said Davis.
An important part of the puzzle has been both head coach and offensive coordinator sharing similar ideas as to what type of quarterback would be best in turning around the FIU program.
“The head coach has to have control over the QB because he’s the guy who’s going to determine the success of the football team. So if we don’t have the same vision of what a QB should be, it never works. When I was interviewing Rich, one of the things we aligned on was our vision of how a QB should look,” said Davis.
Both men believe that a pro-style quarterback is what’s best for the Panthers. But they also saw a unique shared trait in both Morgan and McGough, despite the two being different personalities and players.
“We want someone who can play on the next level, there’s a ton of 5-9, 5-10 gun-run guys who can’t necessarily throw across the room, but they’re electric as athletes; however, I didn’t want that, and I didn’t want our offense to look like that. Also, something about James and Alex - they’re both comfortable in their skin and never lack confidence,” said Davis.
Skrosky echoed Davis’ sentiments about quarterbacks needing to have confidence in who they are.
“James, and to be honest, many of the quarterbacks I’ve coached have had a great influence on me, in terms of the belief that you [have] to be comfortable in your skin and be your own person. I think it’s an overlooked trait,” said Skrosky.
Head coach and offensive coordinator are clearly comfortable with each other, and that’s paid immediate dividends for the Panthers.
Heading into their fourth season together, FIU’s amassed its most wins over three years in program history, earned three bowl berths, and has averaged 29.2 points per game.
What’s especially interesting about the success is that the team’s signal-callers over that span in McGough and Morgan were both considered reclamation projects, as both suffered through seesaw collegiate careers before the tutelage of Skrosky.
From 2014-2016, McGough showed flashes of pro potential, leading the program to two wins over rival Florida Atlantic, and a season-opening upset of UCF in 2015.
However, he had two seasons of completing under 60% of his passes and was benched during the 2016 campaign.
Skrosky’s arrival provided a fresh start for McGough, although it took some time getting used to a new voice in the quarterback room.
“My guy Rich – he came in with – he’s a little guy (Skrosky stands roughly 5'9) – but came in with such confidence and demanded things from us,” said McGough with a chuckle as he recalled meeting Skrosky for the first time.
“It’s like, who’s this guy coming in all demanding, but by the second week all of us in the quarterback room said, okay, this guy knows what he’s doing. It was awesome to be there and to have him help me get to where I am today,” said McGough.
At the crux of Skrosky’s offensive philosophy is a belief in repetition to execute plays to the best of their ability as opposed to overloading players with several plays and concepts.
“We’re not going to run a million different plays. What we’re trying to account for is the variable of everything that can take place on the defensive side of the ball. To me, the key isn’t teaching what 11 guys [on offense] are doing, it’s teaching what all 22 are doing. Teaching how many guys are rushing, is it zone or man coverage, single-high or two-high [referring to safeties positioning on the field] so that they’re comfortable with that. I really think that’s helped kids I’ve coached,” said Skrosky.
McGough firmly echoed those sentiments when talking about how Skrosky’s teachings helped him grow.
“He perfects the basics before expanding the playbook; I liked that coaching style because if you give someone too much information, they can’t play fast. They’re out there thinking instead of playing, and you can’t be successful that way,” said McGough.
One of the notions about Skrosky’s offense is that it’s simplified or watered-down - a claim that he vehemently opposes.
“It bothers me a bit when I hear people say this is a simple offense to run or that this is the dumbed down version of playing quarterback,” said Skrosky.
Morgan specifically sought out a pro-style offense when seeking a new home after three years at Bowling Green. He and Skrosky developed a quick bond over their affinity for details.
“My first conversation with Coach Skrosky, I thought, would be just touching base. But we ended up speaking for 45 minutes, and I very much enjoyed that conversation. He’s a guy who’s detail-oriented and is at the facility during odd hours of the night when I’m there and I appreciated that about him,” said Morgan.
What followed that conversation was Morgan setting the program’s single-season record for touchdown passes in a season (26) and becoming an NFL draftee.
Both of Skrosky’s quarterbacks feel that it wasn’t just his offensive philosophy that set them up for being NFL quarterbacks, but also his work in the QB room.
“I knew right away that he knew his stuff and he taught me so much. He helped me tremendously during the interview process and prepared for well for the NFL,” said Morgan.
For Skrosky, spending his entire adult life in coaching, a journey that’s taken him to seven programs, the level of preparedness of his quarterbacks to play at the next level, and seeing them fulfill their dreams is what he takes the most pride in.
“The one trait that I’m proud of is when our QBs have gone into the meeting room with NFL personnel, the feedback has always been, wow. He’s outstanding. Or when Alex goes into a meeting and I’m expecting it to be an hour, twenty minutes later they come out saying, hey, he’s ready - this kid’s got it. And then moments like seeing your guys get drafted and knowing you played a small part in that,” said Skrosky.
As for the emerging NFL quarterback pipeline that’s ongoing at FIU under Davis and Skrosky, McGough offered his opinion on what’s needed to keep the trend going.
“It comes down to if you get players who want to excel at football and playing quarterback. Because as long as you have Butch Davis and Rich Skrosky, it sells itself and I expect that quarterback success to continue for years,” said McGough.