As Greg Schiano sits at a wrought iron patio table overlooking the practice fields behind One Buc Place in Tampa, he is remarkably relaxed.
You’d think, at 46 years old and after 11 seasons as a head coach on the college level at Rutgers, Schiano might be a little bit more anxious, constantly wondering, “Am I doing the right things? Am I missing anything?”
No, he is as in control of things with the Buccaneers as he ever was in Piscataway, N.J.
That’s likely because the fit between the ever-detailed, maniacally disciplined, and flat-lined Schiano, and the young and talented Buccaneers couldn’t be more perfect.
And that’s probably why Schiano, after several flirtations with the NFL, finally took the leap with this job and at this time.
“I thought as I learned about this organization, it was the right fit,” Schiano said. “But it’s not why I went down the road initially. I do, however, think that’s what kept me going down the road.
“A lot of times I’ve gone down the road and then said, ‘Rutgers is where I need to be, Rutgers is still right.’
“This was the first thing as I went down the road, and as I kept going, I said, ‘You know, this is where I should be. This is a good fit for me right now in my life.’
“I think one of the things that was very appealing was they had some young, talented players but probably lacking some of the things that we could bring as far as structure and discipline as well. So I did think it was a good opportunity and I think meeting with ownership and their belief and how they wanted to do things, that’s where it felt like we were aligned.”
Under ex-coach Raheem Morris, the Bucs were a mess last season, going 4-12 and losing their final 10 games, often by lopsided scores. They were undisciplined and lacked focus.
That’s why Schiano’s entrance should provide a big Year 1 bounce. A tighter ship should produce better results — and already has in the minds of players.
“His focus and his vision is just different,” said defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, the third overall pick in 2010. “The way he locks into things and his attention to detail, and he doesn’t let anybody . . . there’s a straight line, and if you’re not on it, you’re going to make sure you get back on it.
“And nobody, don’t matter who you are, he’s not going to let you get off that line. And if you’re not on the line, you’re going to have issues.
“I believe he has the right vision, and everybody’s buying into that vision and I believe we have all the pieces to be on the same level as the Patriots.”
Whether Schiano can sustain success after the initial post-hiring bump will be interesting to watch.
Most coaches coming from the college ranks have struggled to enjoy success in the NFL, though Jim Harbaugh provided hope with a 13-3 record last season with the 49ers after jumping from Stanford.
But Schiano was a three-year NFL assistant with the Bears under mentor Dave Wannstedt from 1996-98. And he has two consiglieres in former Browns coach Butch Davis and well-respected veteran offensive assistant Jimmy Raye to help him navigate the weeds.
“In my opinion what I think is acceptable, it might not be . . . and NFL guys might say, what the heck?” Schiano said. “I just kind of bounce everything off those guys. At the end of the day, I’m going to do what I think is best, but I really do appreciate their opinion.”
His coaching staff is an interesting mix of coordinators —
“I think it’s half and half by design,” he said. “We have a lot of younger college coaches that are used to that [young group of players], and I think the leadership positions, especially, are all NFL guys.”
What will ultimately decide whether Schiano is a long-term NFL success is disproving some of his weaknesses that showed at Rutgers.
Schiano is a conservative game coach who believes running the football, defense, and special teams are the backbone of the team.
That did not work for Dave “It’s not a sin to punt” Wannstedt with the Dolphins —
“I think you can, but I think offense is very important as well,” Schiano said. “What I want to do on offense, I think we have a deep-shot quarterback [Josh Freeman]. We have to make sure we take those shots.
“So we’re going to push the ball down the field and we’re going to throw the ball, we’re going to do all that. I just do believe it hardens your whole football team if you’re running the ball. It makes you a tougher bunch.”
Will Schiano, who tightened the reins offensively at Rutgers, be afraid of getting into shootouts (something Wannstedt avoided like the plague), which very well might happen with teams such as the Saints and Panthers in the NFC South?
“If I think if we have the people, I’m not,” Schiano said. “When we had [Mike] Teel, Ray Rice, and Kenny [Britt] and [Tiquan Underwood at Rutgers], we had a 3,000-yard quarterback and 2,000-yard running back and two 1,000-yard receivers, we pushed the ball down the field. We really believed in doing that. After that, I don’t really know if we had the personnel to do it, you know what I mean?
“It’s nice to say, ‘I want to do this and I want to do that.’ I think one of the best things Bill [Belichick] does is, ‘What do you have? OK, now how can we win with what we have?’ Not, ‘I want to be this.’
“I may want to be something, too, but if you don’t have the people to do it, you can’t. And that was always our deal there and I thought because of the way we played defense there, [being conservative on offense] gave us a chance.”
The biggest thing Schiano will have to prove is that he can win the do-or-die games. He did a tremendous job getting downtrodden Rutgers even to respectability, and that’s coming from an alumnus.
But after posting the history-making upset over No. 3 Louisville in 2006, Rutgers failed to achieve the only thing missing on Schiano’s résumé: a Big East championship and a BCS berth in a conference that was struggling.
That’s his one regret.
“No doubt, yup,” he said. “Dropped pass in the back of the end zone at West Virginia. Blown fumble call at West Virginia in ’06. There were a lot of [missed opportunities] and you look back and say, ‘Could have been.’
“Sometimes when you have to be darned near perfect to get to where you get to, you understand that the other team is on scholarship, too, and may have some advantages that you don’t at the end of the day. Do I think it can be done there? I do, there’s no doubt. Sometimes someone else needs to do it. If that makes sense.”
Schiano believes he’ll push through with the Bucs, because there are no disadvantages from team to team in the NFL.
“I wouldn’t have taken the job had I not believed we could win it.”
Ex-Saint sees no problems
As expected, neither Medway native Pete Carmichael nor Steve Spagnuolo of Grafton got the interim head coaching job for the Saints.
Sean Payton is suspended for the season and interim coach Joe Vitt is suspended for the first six games for their roles in the bounty scandal. Offensive line coach Aaron Kromer is directing the team in the final two exhibition games, and into the regular season.
Former Saints guard Carl Nicks, who signed a five-year, $47.5 million contract in the offseason with the Buccaneers, said Kromer was the logical choice.
“Man, I’m excited,” Nicks said of his former position coach. “I think he had an opportunity to interview for a head coaching job last year [with the Rams] and he didn’t get it, but I think he’s ready. He’s put in the time, he’s been around.
“They have great coaches out there, they’ve got a system in place. The guy who holds the [yardage] sticks could run that organization because everything is going to be run no matter who’s in charge.
“But it’s a great opportunity for him and he’s going to be intense, he’s going to get after it, he’s going to be smart. So I hope he does well.”
Naming Kromer the interim coach was smart because it allow coordinators Carmichael and Spagnuolo to stay in charge of the offense and defense.
“Absolutely,” Nicks said. “I think the offensive line, it’s low-maintenance, especially if you’re doing your job. So if they’re keeping Drew [Brees] up and protecting whoever is back there, he can oversee everything and still watch the line.”
Will Kromer adapt well to managing the game, which will be the most closely watched part of his duties?
“He was already kind of doing that when he wasn’t the head coach, just making sure we were where we were supposed to be if there was a field goal, special teams, for different situations,” Nicks said. “So I think they’ll do great with that because he was already doing that.”
Nicks does not feel bad that Carmichael didn’t get the job.
“No, see, and you can quote me on this: If the Saints don’t pay him an outrageous amount of money the next three or four years, he’s going to be a head coach somewhere,” Nicks said. “That guy, he’s talented, he’s special, and he’s a great coach. Please believe he’s paid his dues and his time is coming.”
Light shed on Fanene case
Thanks to team president Jonathan Kraft’s appearance on the team’s pregame radio show on 98.5 The SportsHub, we know the Patriots’ thinking on releasing Jonathan Fanene: that the defensive tackle wasn’t forthcoming about the arthritis in his left knee.
There really was no other reason for the Patriots to cut Fanene unless they are coming after at least the $1.35 million they haven’t paid him yet. But why not go after all of it if you think you have a case?
It will be interesting to see if the Patriots actually follow through and go after the money. They could be hoping a good scare induces Fanene and his agent, Angelo Wright, who has been around the block, to tell them, “Go ahead and keep the balance. We’re good.”
Kraft basically said Fanene lied on his entrance questionnaire when he signed with the team. That could be a tough sell because the Patriots received all of Fanene’s medicals from the Bengals. It would be tough to imagine there was information in there detailing knee problems, because if there were, wouldn’t the Patriots have tried to revoke the signing then, or at least been hyper-vigilant about said knee during his time with the Patriots and, especially, at his camp physical?
Norfolk native and former Boston College star Matt Hasselbeck may have lost the Titans’ quarterback competition to Jake Locker, but he’s still a winner. Former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer surprised many on ESPN when he was brutally honest about how Hasselbeck “saved his life” after Dilfer was left downcast in the wake of his son’s death in 2003. “There’s a lot more to learn, and Matthew Hasselbeck can teach Jake Locker things that transcend football that will change his life for the better,” Dilfer said. “The man has such a soul, such a heart. Truly is one of the greatest people in the NFL. I mean, I was a mess. I was 265 pounds and drinking myself to sleep. I’m depressed, my wife’s going, ‘What’s going on?’ And it’s that guy, Matthew Hasselbeck, that says, ‘This is over. I love you too much to let you do this to yourself. You need to come back up to Seattle.’ And I credit Matthew Hasselbeck for the type of father I am, the type of husband I am, because he really saved my life in 2003.”
1. The in-season injured reserve rule and the trade deadline will not be changed for this season. Despite being approved by league owners, the changes weren’t signed off on by the NFLPA after the NFL wanted modifications to the padded practice rules included. This isn’t Congress. You can’t stick some pork in the bill. Good on the union. Those practice rules were bargained for.
2. Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson said on Twitter that the media were twisting his words when he told ESPN, “I was trying to protect myself from getting hurt,” while waiting on a new contract. Yeah, well, we didn’t make it up that you got benched against the Patriots when you short-armed two passes. But now you’re really fighting. OK, good.
3. Not sure how the Seahawks can avoid starting Russell Wilson at quarterback. The third-round pick seems to have won the job, even though that would put $26 million Matt Flynn on the bench.
4. Andy Reid should not have allowed his agent to talk about how Reid should get a new contract six days after the death of Reid’s son. Don’t care how or why it happened. It just shouldn’t happen.
5. The Patriots must be licking their chops for the season to start. They’ll face Locker of the Titans in Week 1 and likely John Skelton in Week 2 with the Cardinals. Against Tom Brady. Yeah, I like New England’s chances of being 2-0 heading to Baltimore, which will likely be the toughest game of the season considering it’s on the road.
Not that he’s not giving it his all right now, but you have to think Devin McCourty will have a little bit more giddy-up in his step on the comeback trail after watching twin brother Jason, taken in the sixth round in 2009, sign a $43 million extension with the Titans . . . The Jets finally benched right tackle Wayne Hunter. Too bad they don’t have anybody better on the roster. UMass grad Vlad Ducasse was supposed to be the guy, but the Jets just don’t trust the 2010 second-round pick enough to put him on the field. He was kicked inside to left guard this year and lost out quickly to Matt Slauson, who is average . . . ESPN’s John Clayton made an interesting observation: Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is back to normal throwing to his left, but after the neck surgery, he doesn’t seem as comfortable throwing to the right . . . The Ravens shocked even incumbent Billy Cundiff when they elected to have the undrafted Justin Tucker take all the kicks in the third exhibition against the Jaguars. But it shouldn’t be all that surprising: The Ravens are right up against the cap, and sometimes you just have to go younger and cheaper. Oh, and about that miss in the AFC Championship game . . .
Greg A. Bedard can be reached a email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @gregabedard. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.