David White

David White: Raiders assistant Kelly Skipper plays, wins at own game of NFL survivor

Has anyone talked to Kelly Skipper?

You remember Coach Skip. Oakland Raiders running back coach. Former Fresno State star running back and Bulldogs assistant. Yay tall, this wide.

"You want to talk to Skip?" asked Raiders media-relations czar Will Kiss. "Come on, you know how he feels about doing interviews."

Yeah, but the guy has got a story to tell. He's the last Raiders assistant still standing from the Al Davis era. He survived the purge of General Manager Reggie McKenzie, who fired virtually everyone he inherited on this side of Davis' funeral. If anyone knows where the bodies are, Coach Skip does.

Think about it: Skipper lived to coach beyond head coaches Lane "Lance" Kiffin, Tom "Fight Club" Cable and Hue "Trader Joe" Jackson. He has outlasted 36 (!!!) assistants ... four offensive coordinators and three defensive coordinators.

"Aw man, an interview?" Skipper said, looking sideways to see if anyone is catching this. "I don't know, man, you know how it is."

Want to know how Skipper has gone seven-plus seasons without repacking his bags?

This is how: laying low -- easy to do when 5-8 with shoes on -- and saying nothing to anyone who is outside the eye patch and looking in. He doesn't do interviews. He doesn't do radio shows. He doesn't sign autographs. He coaches up players and keeps down the volume.

"You looking for Skip?" said quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, who was fired and rehired by the Raiders during Skipper's tenure. "He's got to be around here somewhere."

Skipper is always somewhere around here, which is amazing given the fact coaching in Oakland is never an exercise in longevity.

He was there when fellow Fresno State alum Kiffin got fired in magnificent fashion in 2008, overhead projector and all. Rumor is, Skipper was in the meeting room when Cable "allegedly" laid some cable and broke assistant Randy Hanson's jaw at training camp in 2009. Skipper saw offensive coordinator Greg Knapp get offed. Twice.

Name another current NFL assistant who has stayed gainfully employed for seven straight non-winning seasons. (Answer: none that we could find). Find another NFL assistant to be retained by four coaches in seven years. (Answer: none).

How does Skipper do it?

The guy can coach like Jim Sweeney reincarnate, only without his mentor's shirtless bravado.

Skipper started as a Raiders tight ends coach, turning rookie Zach Miller into a blocking and catching machine. As a running backs coach, he taught Darren McFadden how to avoid contact enough to become a 1,000-yard rusher. He took an undrafted fullback named Marcel Reese and made a Pro Bowl runner out of him.

Last season, the Raiders ran for the seventh-most yards in franchise history. His backs run hard, block harder, and catch-and-run with the softest of ease.

His reward: not moving the kids all over the NFL map. One son is playing football at a Pleasanton high school with his boyhood friends; his youngest just started middle school after getting through elementary school uninterrupted. This is his longest running job since spending nine years at Fresno State.

To be an NFL assistant is to jerk your family from coast to coast. Just ask Raiders assistant Al Saunders, who is on his fourth NFL staff -- Washington to St. Louis to Baltimore to Oakland -- since Skipper joined the Raiders. And yet, here stands Skipper, with no memory of his real estate agent's name.

"It is nice to not be moving around a lot," Skipper said after agreeing to an on-the-record moment after practice, for the first time since ... ever. "Especially when you've got kids."

That's about as far as the talk would go. No JaMarcus Russell tales. No Al Davis secrets. No Amy Trask nightmares. Just a couple of questions about how his Bulldogs are going to look this year.

After all, Skipper has lasted this long because he can coach on an NFL sideline, not stump at a podium.

"It's all good," Skipper said. "I'll see you later on ..."

Related stories from Fresno Bee