Posted October 31, 2013

An embattled Greg Schiano must learn the lessons of more experienced coaches

New England Patriots, New York Giants, Seattle Seahawks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Uncategorized
The NFLhas been tough on Greg Schiano, but he's made it tougher on himself. (Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

The NFL has been tough on Greg Schiano, but he’s made it tougher on himself. (Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

RENTON, Wash. — When Tom Coughlin became the New York Giants’ head coach in 2004, defensive end Michael Strahan was absolutely not on board. Strahan had heard all the stories about Coughlin as an autocratic martinet, and through his first few seasons, Coughlin lived up to the rep.

But before the Giants’ Super Bowl-winning season in 2007, Coughlin changed his perspective. He still held fast to what some would consider to be an overtly disciplined style, but Coughlin learned that his players needed to know that he cared about them as people. He made changes to his thought process, and reaped two Lombardi Trophies as a result. By the end of his career, Strahan insisted that he would never want to play for anyone else.

It’s a difficult balance for some coaches, especially those who are naturally more authoritative. Meeting their players in the middle is seen by some as a sign of capitulation or weakness, but at the NFL level, some level of advanced understanding is a necessity. Bill Belichick has been far more adept with this dynamic than his public persona would have you believe, while most of his acolytes — Josh McDaniels, Eric Mangini, et al — miss the big picture.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano, a longtime admirer of Belichick’s way of doing things, has been walking the wrong side of this line through most of this season. His 0-7 team is a farce on the field, but it’s what’s going on in the locker room that has a lot of people around the league wondering just how long Schiano, in his second season as the team’s coach, will be allowed to keep that title.

On Oct. 24, NFL.com’s Mike Silver wrote a blistering expose of the Schiano regime, in which current and former Bucs players teed off on the coach. One player who spent the 2012 season in Tampa said that the atmosphere was like “being in Cuba.” Defensive lineman Michael Bennett, who spent 2012 with the Bucs and currently plays for the Seattle Seahawks (Tampa Bay’s next opponent) said that Schiano was so consumed with being a Belichick type that he followed Belichick around like a puppy dog when the Patriots and Buccaneers engaged in group practices in the summer of 2012.

As for his new environs under head coach Pete Carroll, Bennett couldn’t wait to praise the Seahawks’ different ways of doing things.

“It’s lovely here,” Bennett told Silver. “I can’t even explain to people how it is here, compared to Tampa. They wouldn’t believe me.”

To be fair to Schiano, it took Carroll a while to figure out the right balance. During his time as an NFL head coach in the 1990s with the New York Jets and New England Patriots, Carroll walked the other side — he was so “rah-rah,” so ceaselessly positive and motivational that his messages lacked the gravitas a pro coach needs to communicate his philosophies to players making several times his salary.

I remember Coughlin talking about his own learning process in Feb., 2012, as the Giants prepared to face the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI. It was a popular topic of discussion, because the Giants team had become younger than the Super Bowl XLII team by necessity, and the coach now clearly possessed a more practiced touch when it came to delivering the message.

“I think the one thing that has happened, and I’ve said it a thousand times and I’ll say it again, is that once the season is over, you have to take a hard look at yourself and do a valid self-analysis,” Coughlin said then. “That’s very important if you’re going to improve. Decide what it is you can change. Look at your team and decide what it is you can change and what is needed in terms of inspiration and motivation or how you get those messages across to those people. Do your research on the outside, whatever it is you believe in.

“I’m a great reader of autobiographies and historical autobiographies, whatever you get your hands on, and reference things that I think are important in order to win or be the very best that we can be. Probably the one thing over the years that may have happened over the years is I may have gotten a little more patient.”

It was a meeting with veteran quarterback Kurt Warner in 2004 that really turned Coughlin’s head around. Coughlin was concerned enough about his players’ reaction to him to reach out to Warner, who was trying to give his own career a kick-start. It didn’t work out for Warner with Big Blue, but he gave his coach some indispensable advice.

“I saw a great man, a great coach, but I also saw a man who, for some reason, didn’t know how to combine those parts of his personality when it came to football,” Warner told NJ.com about Coughlin. “He could connect with his family on such an intimate level but had no idea how to connect with his players. He was struggling badly. Tom was searching for the right way to lead without compromising his principles. I wanted to help. I thought I could help. I tried to help.”

He did help, and it really paid off. Coughlin asked Warner to write a list of the things he could do differently and better. Warner responded with a letter exhorting the coach to “swallow his pride and find a way to connect with his players — each player, from the biggest star to the guys on the practice squad.”

Warner told Coughlin that his players needed to know why their coach was doing things — it was the only way they would buy in, It was a life lesson that Coughlin still referred to years later.

Carroll came to the Seahawks in 2010 after a wildly successful and somewhat controversial decade at USC. There, he re-jiggered all of his own philosophies and finally found the way to make things work for him. The ever-positive Carroll added a new weight to his words, and an increased ability to back them up with decisive action. To get to his current roster, among the youngest and most talented in the NFL, Carroll and general manager John Schneider went through a seemingly endless combination of possible players before finally hitting on all the guys who would buy in.

Pete Carroll has learned to communicate in ways that resonate. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Pete Carroll has learned to communicate in ways that resonate. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

“When you have a philosophy — when you have an approach, if it’s any good, you’re going to reap the benefits of it as soon as everybody joins in and gets on board,” Carroll told SI.com Wednesday. “I think it’s hugely important, and it’s what leaders are called to do — put out the program, and then demonstrate reasons why everyone should join in. You can all be together, and take it as far as you can with those guidelines. I think it’s really important to us, and I’m thrilled that we are where we are. These guys talk the way they talk, and perform the way they perform, and they understand. They get it. I think it gives us a chance to be the most powerful we can be, and we’re still growing. There are aspects of it still … we’re not performing well as we’re capable at times, but our attitude is right. They’re practicing and playing and studying hard … we just have to grow into the ability to function really well, regardless of what’s going on around us. That just takes time.”

True, but the first thing a coach must do is build relationships with his players so they’ll accept his paradigm. Talking to Carroll and Schiano on the same day about organizational philosophy, as I was able to do on Wednesday, revealed a glaring contrast in delivery. Carroll has been through it — he’s failed, and grown from his own subsequent crisis of conscience. As has Coughlin, As, by the way, has Belichick — whose tenure with the Cleveland Browns in the early 1990s was a relative debacle.

Tom Coughlin had to learn to find joy in his profession. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Tom Coughlin had to learn to find joy in his profession. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Schiano, for all his alleged tantrums and missteps with his players, sounded more like a man in over his skis — a guy who just didn’t get it. When he said that treating people right was the key to getting through tough times, I asked him what that meant.

“I think the golden rule is usually the best to go by, right? You treat others the way you want to be treated,” Schiano said. “If I’m not doing something right I want somebody to tell me, I want them to tell me. I don’t want them to disrespect me, but I want them to tell me. If I am doing something well I’d like to hear some praise and everything in between. My big thing when I deal with anything is is the guy’s motive, right? As long as he’s trying his best out there, and doing everything he can to be the best he can, I’m going to help him the most I can; if a guy is not of that mindset than he’s probably not right for the organization. What we have right now is a bunch of guys that are trying their guts out, and unfortunately it hasn’t proven the results yet, but we’re confident it will.”

Sounds fine in the abstract, but whatever Schiano’s real philosophy is, it isn’t clear, and it certainly hasn’t been battle-tested in a way that will resonate. He talks about guys playing hard, and nebulous challenges, but what’s lacking is a clear way to get from where his team is to wherever he wants it to be. Schiano’s mistakes as a leader are well-documented, but perhaps the most distressing aspect to his time in Tampa is that he hasn’t seemed to learn from any of them.

“I think the temperature [in the locker room] is disappointed because we’re 0-7 for sure, but certainly fully engaged, and a team that’s’ united, and a coaching staff that’s united,” he said. “We just want to get started, get a win and get going, and we believe we have good players and good coaches, we just have been a little off in some different areas. We have to get that straightened out because I think we do have a good football team, we’re just missing out a little bit here and there. That’s the goal. We know it’s a tough challenge coming out there to Seattle. The environment, the team that we’re playing, everything, but we’re certainly looking forward to it.”

If Schiano really wants to get something out of his trip to CenturyLink field this Sunday, he’ll pause and look across the field, and observe an NFL coach who has established his process through time and patience as opposed to impetuousness and desperation.

In today’s NFL, there’s no other way to get things done.

15 comments
Cougarblue
Cougarblue

The level of success college coaches have enjoyed in the NFL is not all that encouraging, in the case of Schiano I failed to see what it was that made him so enticing in the first place. At the end of the 2011 college football season, the stories of Tampa Bay being locked onto the Rutgers coach seemed to be nothing more than far fetched rumors. What was it that made Greg Schiano so desired? He had been an defensive assistant for da Bears, then the defensive coordinator for Univ of Miami, before taking over at Rutgers. His record (2001-11) was a sliver over .500, coming in at 68-67, but it was his conference record 28-48 that made the guy seem like a reach. While he enjoyed a 11-2 2006 season winning all the awards, his Scarlet Knight teams tailed off dramatically there after, finishing tied for 5th, tied for 2nd, tied for 4th, 8th, and tied for 4th. His 7-16 start for the Bucs would seem to indicate that Tampa Bay didn't find whatever it was they thought they were getting in the man. Something tells me the AD at Florida Atlantic Univ might just have a new coach in his sights, Greg Schiano the former Tampa Bay head man relieved of his duties midway through the 2013 season.

DennyCrane
DennyCrane

So Schaino should start passing out the PEDs? Perhaps that's one lesson he need not pick up from Pete.

mystafugee
mystafugee

Here's the big difference, in college you can act like a dictator with no accountability.  In the NFL, you actually have to be able to build relationships with your players and actually be good at your job.  

keithhenig
keithhenig

You want respect, Coach Schiano? Stand under a street light and let the bugs respect you. You have done nothing to earn respect. You have decimated a team that I have followed for over 30 years. Pack your bags and get the hell out. You disrespect the the Buccaneers, you disrespect your players, and you disrespect the game itself. You will be 0-8 after Sunday. Enough is enough. Go the hell away.

DSM
DSM

Rutgers fans were amazed when Peter King of SI and Bill Bellichek touted Schiano's NFL prospects. He was a great asset in reviving Rutgers' program due to his recruiting, scheduling and fundraising skills, but never appeared in a major bowl game due to tactical errors.  His skills seemed poorly suited to the NFL, where much, more successful college coaches--Saban, Spurrier, Petrino, Holtz--failed.

gary41
gary41

Nice article.  The differences between Carroll & Schiano are worlds apart on many levels.  With Schiano it goes well beyond creating the proper Coughlin-eque conditions.  Like many college coaches, he was hired for the job, without the proper background and without organizational ability.  He had little NFL experience to draw upon coming in and beyond that not qualified to make decisions---lacking both experience & decision making ability.  The front office is another mess, as hand in glove.         

KristianColasacco
KristianColasacco

I don't know if the Glazers read this stuff but if they do I want them to understand that until they fire Schiano the fans are going to continue to make our opinions about this clown known.  Don't expect us to give you money while you continue to let this guy represent our city.  He needs to be gone.  I can't believe you're not embarrassed and disgusted by this entire situation.  I really wish you'd sell the team to owners who care more about it than they do soccer. 

JohnElliott
JohnElliott

Great article with some good insight. Interesting to see the quotes from Schiano that is so oblivious to his own words he sounds like a broken record. Sadly words and actions dont correspond. You can talk all you want but until you can actually get the players to listen and buy in it is pointless. Time for this guy to go back to AAA and coach some more and learn a bit. Sadly the Bucs sent a good QB away for this smuck. 

billX
billX

did u actually read it man ? lol .... wow

Jon8
Jon8

What a hit piece! Has Ferrar ever played football? Has he coached it? Did he interview Schiano to get his side?

The Seahawks have a lot of talent! The Bucs do not! Perhaps the powers that be in TB told Schiano they had lazy team and what was lacking was discipline?

Ferrar wouldn't know any of that because he only talks to players and takes their side as do almost a sports writers!

Ferrar is a lazy reporter who is not ready for prime time!

Btw, nice job by Freeman for the Vikings!! Maybe Schiano knows something about the game after all!!

belindian
belindian

@Jon8 You do realize there are other forms of punctuation than question marks and exclamation points.

KristianColasacco
KristianColasacco

@Jon8 You're absolutely, positively stupid.  You know nothing about football, the Bucs, Tampa or life in general.  The Bucs had a very good team with good players all over the roster.  They were preseason picks to be in the playoffs by a lot of analysts.  The people in Tampa do not like this guy, we don't like what he stands for and we don't want him here.  He's bush-league.  He's a liar and a manipulator.  He's dirty.  He's a cheater.  He's disgusting. 

JohnElliott
JohnElliott

@Jon8 Sure did threw away a good QB. This guy is so out of touch with his players it is sad. Schiano has great quotes in the article it's just sad he doesn't understand how to translate words into action so the players buy into it. Sadly Bucs management is seriously lacking for this guy to still be the coach and for allowing a good QB to be traded. 

TylerJacobRollinson
TylerJacobRollinson

@Jon8 Yeah...he interviewed Schiano. Spoke to him directly. Schiano is quoted multiple times in the article. It's actually a well thought out article. You should Read it.