Fans of winless Buccaneers direct their ire at Greg Schiano, and they have a point
For every Dick Vermeil, Tom Coughlin and Jim Harbaugh, there are five Nick Sabans, Bobby Petrinos and Steve Spurriers. For every former college football coach who comes into the NFL and seems to crack the code, there are many more who are overwhelmed by the complexities of the game, the lack of control over their players and the inability to clamp down on their circumstances whenever they see fit. In the movie Bull Durham, Crash Davis tells Nuke LaLoosh to hold the baseball like an egg, and there is a similar balance between control and release one must master when coaching an NFL team. Just because you’ve heard the arguments a million times before doesn’t mean that they aren’t 100 percent true: It’s a real yank to the throat to go from absolute power over a bunch of 18-22-year old kids to trying to master the finer points of communicating in a meaningful way with men 10 years older who make at least 10 times what you make.
It’s a tough job that has brought a lot of half-tough guys to their knees, and it’s about to do the same thing to Greg Schiano. The current Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach, who held that same position at Rutgers from 2001 through ’11, seemed to have the right characteristics. After four tough years, Schiano’s teams went 56-33 and won five bowl games in his final seven seasons. He had the Bill Belichick seal of approval (which, at one time, was a good thing for coaches not named Bill Belichick), he did three years with the Chicago Bears from 1996 through ’98 as a defensive assistant and defensive backs coach and he seemed to have enough experience running a pro-style program at all levels to avoid the nearly-inevitable growing pains so common to those coaches looking to make the leap.
“During our thorough search, we met with numerous impressive candidates, but Coach Schiano surely distinguished himself,” Buccaneers co-chairman Joel Glazer said in a statement released on the day of Schiano’s Jan. 26, 2012 hire. “From his leadership skills to his considerable track record, he is, simply put, the right man for the job.”
Nearly two years later, he’s anything but. Leaving Raymond James Stadium on Sunday after his team’s 31-20 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles dropped them to 0-5, Schiano got the full raspberry chorus from the Bucs fans still in attendance. The boos simply reflected the common perception of Schiano at this point in time — he’s yet another former college coach who has let everything spiral out of control in his ceaseless insistence on absolute authority.
Schiano will have a tough time proving otherwise. Moreover, his decisions have been, for the most part, awful. At the same time he was providing safe haven for ex-North Carolina coach Butch Davis (and altering Davis’ title so that the “special assistant to the head coach” could continue to draw money he never earned from his old program), Schiano was demanding accountability from his players. At the same time he was excusing the outdated passing concepts put forth by offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan, Schiano was running quarterback Josh Freeman out of town on a rail in favor of the quarterback he and general manager Mark Dominik selected in the third round of the 2013 draft — Mike Glennon from North Carolina State. Schiano got his wish when Freeman was released on Oct. 3.
It’s the ways in which Schiano engineered Freeman’s departure that showed the first real cracks in the foundation. The NFLPA wants answers regarding the allegations that Schiano was the one who leaked the information about Freeman’s involvement in Stage 1 of the NFL’s substance-abuse program. Freeman, who has been diagnosed with ADHD, switched his medication without notifying the NFL and came up with the wrong result in a test. When the news was leaked by whomever leaked it, Freeman had to issue a statement insisting that he’s never failed a league-mandated drug test for any other reason.
“Unfortunately, it appears that some people who may have noticed the testing at my workplace have made hurtful and incorrect assumptions and chosen to disseminate inaccurate and very disturbing information,” Freeman said in part.
Schiano responded by insisting that he was not the source of the leak, but even if he wasn’t, he was busy mishandling other situations. When kicker Lawrence Tynes developed a staph infection as part of what has become a larger MRSA problem in the team’s locker room, Schiano and his front office landed in the NFLPA’s crosshairs by putting Tynes on the non-football injury list — basically stating that there was no proof that the organization was at fault.
“If I drop a 45-pound plate on my foot while lifting weights in the weight room at the facility, it’s IR,” Tynes told FOX Sports’ Mike Garafolo on Aug. 31. “So I just don’t understand how my situation is any different. I went to work, I kicked, I practiced, I cold-tubbed, I hot-tubbed, I showered for all those days there. I come up with MRSA and it’s a non-football injury? They’re basically trying to exonerate themselves of this, and I’m not going to allow it to happen.”
The Bucs have scrubbed their facility on several occasions since the outbreak (there’s a metaphor for you), which has also affected Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks and rookie cornerback Johnthan Banks. Last week, Dr. Deverick J. Anderson, co-director of Duke University’s Infection Control Outreach Network, met with the team after assessing the overall risk to other players.
“I can say that I believe it is a safe environment for the players and staff, and I think there are a few reasons why I can say that,” Dr. Anderson said. “I got to come and review the facilities about a month ago, and I got to see how practice was performed, and based on my observations, I didn’t think there was anything very high risk.”
NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said that the issue “underscores the need for a League-wide, comprehensive and standardized infectious disease protocol. It also calls for improved accountability measures on health and safety issues by the NFL over the clubs,”
Safety is the specific issue in this case, but accountability appears to be the larger issue for Schiano. And in the end, that will be his NFL undoing. Just as Nick Saban thought that he could transfer his autocratic ways to the NFL with impunity … just as Steve Spurrier thought that he could light the league up with his surface-flashy offense and 40-hour weeks … just as Bobby Petrino turned tail and ran when things got tough … Schiano has created an impossible situation that seems to have only one reasonable conclusion. Even his counters against victory formations — which his team has seen far too often — seem to express a desire for meaningless action without direction.
Asked about the boos on Sunday, Schiano said that he “didn’t hear anything.”
“I believe it is a well-coached football team,” he said of the Buccaneers, via Gary Shelton of the Tampa Bay Times. “Not well enough. There are certain things we have to get done consistently. We’ll get this done in one game and this done in another game, but we’re not getting it all together. That may frustrate some.
“I would tell you if I didn’t think we were doing a good job. We need to be better. It starts with me, and it goes through my assistant coaches, and it goes through every player on the team. We’ll get over this hump, and we’ll get through it, and we’ll start winning.”
The “building” excuse is common to coaches and general managers deservedly on the hook for their questionable decisions. In that regard, those in charge of building a team are subject to the same audits given to anyone else involved in a construction project. Right now, Schiano is the NFL’s version of the contractor whose lumber shows up late, whose plans are proven wrong and must be re-done and whose foundations will not hold the structure that has been promised.
No matter the profession, fired is fired. And fired is what happens when the architecture falls apart.