Player-Turned-Staffer: Charlie Skalaski directs UF recruiting with unique background
Almost two decades before Florida coach Dan Mullen phoned him with a dream job offer, Charlie Skalaski III received a nightmarish call that altered his life and career path.
Born and raised in Miami, the former Gators defensive back grew up with goals of becoming a coach or working for the FBI. He did both — like his father — but also spent more than 20 years in Corporate America.
“Certainly not the normal career path for most coaches,” said Skalaski, now UF’s director of player personnel.
Coaching up talent:Player-Turned-Staffer: Reggie McGrew
A dozen of his corporate years were with Steelcase Inc., an international company that is the world's largest manufacturer of interior office furnishings. Skalaski had been promoted to sales manager of Steelcase's largest field office, located in New York City, by 2001.
Charlie Skalaski's life-changing moment
He was heading downtown for an appointment at 120 Broadway — a few blocks from the World Trade Center — when his assistant called him on Sept. 11.
“‘One of the Towers just got hit by a plane’,” Skalaski recalls her telling him. “So I actually came up out of the subway and went into my office.”
His executive office was located in Midtown Manhattan, overlooking Central Park and Columbus Circle. Skalaski climbed the corporate ladder through various sales and management positions, but still had a void missing in his life.
Some time away from his job made him realize it.
“After 9/11 happened, we took a little break from work,” Skalaski said. “Like most Americans, 9/11 impacted me significantly. It caused me to have a time of real introspection. Am I really doing what I feel the good Lord put me here to do? Or am I worried too much about success, and not about significance?
“I lived in an affluent bedroom community in New York City and I had a pretty good lifestyle. We lost 13 members from my community that day who were killed in the Towers.”
Two of those community members were volunteer coaches at Ridgewood High School in Ridgewood, New Jersey. Skalaski was contacted by the head coach, who asked him to take one of their places on the staff.
He stepped up and volunteered during the 2001 and 2002 seasons, setting Skalaski on a new career path that would eventually lead him to the University of Florida.
“I started coaching again and was smitten. I realized this is what I wanted to do,” Skalaski said. “When 9/11 happened my company had 22,000 employees worldwide. A year later we had 11,000 just because of the economic turmoil. I wound up taking up a negotiated buyout from my company, knowing in my mind I’m going to pursue coaching.”
Getting into coaching
His current job in UF’s recruiting department isn’t Skalaski’s first stint as a staff member at his alma mater.
He started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Florida in 1978. Skalaski worked on both sides of the ball and learned under the tutelage of coaching greats Steve Spurrier and Mike Shanahan, both of whom were offensive assistants during that time span.
“Two guys who couldn’t have been more diametrically opposite in how they approach it,” Skalaski said. “Coach Spurrier is unique. He’s literally just a genius. It’s almost like he’s unconsciously competent on offense. It comes so easy to him. He is a laissez-faire, always got a smile on his face kind of guy.
“Coach Shanahan’s very different. He was a very straight arrow, a lot of hours, grind it out. So it was really good for me to be exposed to two different ways of doing things. I was a guy that always had to work so hard, so I tended to think there’s only one way to do it: nose to the grindstone.”
Playing for the Gators
Skalaski developed that mentality when he played for the Gators from 1974-77. He was a two-time letter winner and earned playing time as an upperclassman, developing a reputation as a smart player.
During his junior year against Houston, which finished 1976 ranked No. 4 nationally, Skalaski played all four positions in the secondary in Florida’s 49-14 victory, the first of six consecutive wins that season.
“I had to fight, bite, scratch and claw to have an opportunity to play here,” Skalaski said. “I look back on that and I’m so thankful for it because it developed a grit, it developed a perseverance, a tenacity that I don’t think I would’ve had without it.
“Then you throw in the cherry on top, that’s just getting to play the game and the relationships with your teammates. Guys like Wes Chandler, Tony Green, Scott Hutchinson, Earl Carr, Willie Wilder. You gotta be a little bit of an older Gator to know those names.”
Skalaski received his bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Florida in 1978 and was awarded a prestigious U.S. Department of Justice internship. After earning his master's degree two years later, he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps.
Skalaski Jr. was an offensive lineman at the University of Miami and spent more than 40 years in law enforcement, retiring as the longest-serving police officer in the state of Florida. He also coached youth sports in his spare time and completed the 92nd session of the FBI National Academy in 1973.
His son began training for the Bureau and wanted to become an agent. However, when Skalaski was offered a job in undercover narcotics, he turned it down.
“The reason I didn’t stay was my wife,” he said. “It was too much for her.”
That’s how Skalaski ended up in Corporate America before changing careers again after 9/11. He spent a decade at Liberty University as an assistant coach, director of football operations and director of player personnel.
He had one-year stints with the Jacksonville Jaguars (2012) and Eastern Kentucky (2015) and coached at Charlotte for three seasons before getting an opportunity to join Florida’s staff in 2019.
Getting the call from Mullen
Skalaski was on his way to a coaching clinic at the University of Kentucky when Mullen called.
“Coach caught me driving through the mountains and we got disconnected a couple times,” he said. “I’m very thankful for his perseverance because I thought, ‘This guy is never going to call me back.’
“Coach Mullen did a great job of telling me why this was the right move. I loved coaching, but he presented this as an opportunity to positively impact a program that needless to say I love. Thought long about it, prayed about it and decided to come back.”
Skalaski has several responsibilities as director of player personnel, including recruiting wide receivers with position coach and passing game coordinator Billy Gonzales. He works with director of recruiting operations Lee Davis on organizing visits and manages Florida’s eight assistant directors of player personnel, each of whom is paired with an assistant coach.
Skalaski also meets regularly with director of creative media and branding Kevin Camps and his staff, coordinating the graphics that recruits receive.
“The list goes on and on. It really is kind of a multi-task job,” Skalaski said. “I don’t want to say a jack of all trades because that means a master of none, right? But make no mistake, the No. 1 goal for us is to identify and assist in the recruitment of elite student-athlete talent, both athletically and academically, to get them to the University of Florida.
“I feel like we’ve made progress in recruiting here. We have ascended and we've done some good things. We’re appreciative of what we’ve accomplished, but we’re not satisfied. As far as I’m concerned, we’ve got miles to go. We won’t be satisfied until we feel like we’ve signed the best class in America.”
After changing careers three times, Skalaski has finally found his calling and said it feels “surrealistic at times” to be working at UF. He brought a unique background and perspective to the football program, and still utilizes the skills learned in law enforcement and Corporate America.
“There’s a lot more on the line in law enforcement than winning a game. I think the big thing I took away is always stay in control of your emotions, rely on what you know to be true and what you’ve been trained to do,” Skalaski said. “Flip over to the corporate side of my life, I was exposed to some incredible training in people skills, intrapersonal relationships, negotiation skills, closing skills, things like that.
“Those have really served me well in athletics because that’s all you do in recruiting is build relationships, if you’re doing it right. When I got back into coaching, it wasn’t because I have this incredible desire to draw X’s and O’s or I’m the world’s best strategist. Nothing like football ever spoke to my heart to be a sphere of influence to change people’s lives. It changed my life, and now I’m paying it forward.”