Greg Skaggs, MD ’92, Res ’95
Published: April 2021
Greg Skaggs, MD ’92, Res ’95, moved to Tampa, Florida in 2019 as the newly hired director of athlete performance with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was his job to develop and oversee the team’s efforts to optimize player performance and safety.
Less than a year later, COVID-19 happened.
For Skaggs, keeping the team safe took on a new meaning. Not only was he responsible for player safety, but his efforts extended to the Buccaneers’ coaching staff, one of the oldest in the National Football League (NFL). He leaned on his training as a physician, and in particular his experience as a former family medicine physician, to educate the team about the importance of wearing masks and social distancing so they could continue in-person meetings and practices.
Coaches and players listened. And in February 2021, the Buccaneers won Super Bowl LV.
“It was fortuitous that I ended up here and COVID happened,” says Skaggs. “We were in a unique position that we were the only organization that had a physician on staff to really manage the operation and try to keep COVID from interrupting our success.”
For Skaggs, the road to the Super Bowl started in medical school and the University of Virginia. He became a Virginia resident during college – his parents moved there for work while he was an undergrad at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. Skaggs says he applied to UVA for medical school because of its reputation and the benefit of in-state tuition. He was soon a member of the Class of 1992, and after graduating, stayed at UVA for his residency in family medicine.
“It was great. I have very fond memories of Charlottesville. I got engaged during my residency and commuted to UVA from Culpeper because my fiancé was working on her PhD in neuroscience at George Mason University,” he says. Skaggs and his wife, Nani, have now been married for 27 years and have two children in college.
Skaggs and his wife considered staying in Charlottesville after his residency ended. Instead, their journey took them out west.
“I like the outdoors, especially cycling, mountain biking, and skiing. The physiology of endurance sports was really interesting to me,” he says. “When I finished my family medicine residency, sports medicine fellowships were fairly new. They were just being accredited, so I decided to do that and went to the University of California San Diego (UCSD) for a year.”
Following his time at UCSD, he relocated to Oregon and spent a few years in private practice as a family medicine physician. The specialty had attracted him early on because it allowed him to mix two areas that he enjoyed: science and teaching. “There is a lot of teaching and education that you end up doing as a provider, helping guide people and helping them help themselves,” he explains.
It was while he was living in Bend, Oregon, that some previous patients who worked in the athletics department at the University of Oregon approached him with a unique opportunity to join them there. Initially he continued to work part-time in private practice and part-time in the school’s training room. “After a couple years, they saw the value of having me full-time. I worked there for the next 15 years, and my practice was taking care of about 600 student-athletes,” Skaggs says. “I ended up working with incredible people and learned a lot about team sports. I took care of elite athletes who went on to win gold medals in the Olympics and go to Rose Bowls, national championships and Final Fours.”
While at the University of Oregon, Skaggs also enjoyed his involvement in the graduate program for athletic training and was able to put his love for teaching to work with students in the training room. “It was fun to run that program kind of like I remember medical school , where they would see a patient and you would talk to them about the patient’s presentation and what history to take and what physical exams to do,” he recalls.
In 2019, Skaggs was contacted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers about joining the organization as director of athlete performance. It was a new role that came out of the general manager’s need to have someone with a medical background to administratively oversee everything from strength and conditioning to nutrition to sports science and player safety. “Football is a very interesting sport because the players have so many different responsibilities, so you have all different kinds of athletes. At U of O, I took care of everyone from gymnasts to shot putters, and I knew I could use little pieces of that experience and apply it to football where you have 350-pound linemen and 180-pound sprinters,” he says. “The experience of individualizing the training, the nutrition, and the recovery for all different kinds of athletes had really prepared me. This was an opportunity I really couldn’t pass up.”
Since joining the team, Skaggs has built a strong department focused on the health and wellness of players, including hiring a nutritionist and developing the team’s sports science program, which monitors training and provides data used to ensure that the strength and conditioning efforts are working and helping prevent injuries.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March 2020, Skaggs used his background as a physician and educator to get buy-in from the coaching staff about what needed to happen to keep everyone healthy. That involved more than just following rules set forth by the NFL or relying on testing, back when slow turnaround for results was a significant obstacle.
“I think the key to our experience and being successful during all that was educating the coaches. Our head coach wanted to do everything in person. He said no Zoom meetings. Fortunately, we’re in Tampa so we could do a lot of things outside,” says Skaggs. “Before their first in-person meeting in May, I had 30 minutes to educate them on what this was all about and that the key was going to be wearing masks, having 100% compliance, and not having any mask-less activities indoors.”
The importance of compliance would be demonstrated early on when a member of the coaching staff tested positive for COVID-19 but there was no transmission, and that accomplishment was a sign of things to come. “The success really came from players believing me,” he says. “And then extending that to their families and explaining what it was going to take for the entire season – not going to nail salons or going to get haircuts. It wasn’t just the players. Everyone had to sacrifice in order for us to be successful. Especially in Florida, there were many opportunities for players and their families to catch COVID, but they did a really good job of taking the educational message and applying it. We had very few cases during the year and didn’t lose anybody for any games.”
As a member of the Buccaneers organization, Skaggs will receive a Super Bowl ring to commemorate the team’s successful run. But for him, the real prize is having a career that has allowed him to build on a variety of skills and interests. “Having such a broad range really provided me with these kinds of opportunities,” he says. “You really need to not be in a niche to do this kind of job and to instead be a generalist and enjoy being an educator. Those have been the keys to my path.”