Monday, September 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs coach-QB soap opera gets messier

It's a Bucs life.

What does that mean, exactly? Well, apparently, it's not paradise. It's kind of like living in a van down by the river.

We're not even a week into the season and it's a mess for Tampa Bay. It actually started during training camp with the unfortunate MRSA problem. Then came the bungled preseason followed by a messy loss in the season opener to the Jets.

And now this.

Wednesday's train wreck du jour involved reports that coach Greg Schiano rigged the outcome of a team election so quarterback Josh Freeman would not be named one of the team captains.

Schiano told the Tampa Bay Times he was the one who tallied the votes and Freeman was not chosen, and any story that suggested otherwise was "100 percent false."

Then came another report that there was a players-only meeting and the legitimacy of the captain's vote might have been on the agenda.

In the end, it doesn't even matter if this stuff is true. And I'm certainly not about to call Schiano a cheater or a liar.

But there's an awful lot of smoke here and, quite frankly, things are in such disarray with the Bucs that even the smoke suggests a serious problem at One Buc Place.

Something happened. Either Schiano really did fix the vote, or someone with the Bucs believes Schiano fixed the vote, or someone associated with the Bucs or Freeman is planting stories. Whatever the case, it isn't good.

This is just another tear in the already-frayed relationship between Schiano and Freeman. And that's really what this is all about: whether Schiano and Freeman can coexist, whether they even want to coexist at this point.

Let's get to the nitty-gritty here. Does Schiano have faith in Freeman? And, maybe an even more important question, does Freeman trust Schiano?

If the answers are no and no — and that's what I believe — then Freeman's time as a starting quarterback of the Bucs is headed to an end, perhaps even in the next few weeks.

Let's face it, you just don't get the feeling Schiano is sold on Freeman. He has never publicly embraced the fifth-year player and often says things that put doubt in everyone's mind, including Freeman's, about whether the 25-year-old is his franchise quarterback.

When you're a head coach, you have two choices: You can either slobber all over your starting quarterback, overly supporting him at every turn, or you can bench him. Schiano has never done the first thing. I have a feeling he is about to do the second.

Suddenly, the expiration date on Schiano's career as Bucs head coach doesn't appear as far away as it used to. Maybe he figures if he's going to put his NFL coaching career in the hands of a quarterback, it's going to be his quarterback.

Maybe that quarterback is rookie Mike Glennon. Maybe it's some kid playing college ball at the moment. Maybe it's another team's current backup.

I'll tell you who I don't think it is: Freeman, who we learned Wednesday didn't show up for the team photo. That hardly sounds like a "Schiano Man." If Freeman isn't his guy, Schiano has every right to make a switch.

But here's the thing: As much as we all talk about how Schiano isn't married to Freeman, maybe the feeling is mutual. Maybe Freeman is looking for a divorce from Schiano and the Bucs.

Put yourself in Freeman's shoes. Either your head coach fixed the vote so you wouldn't be named captain, or your teammates really didn't vote you captain. I'm not sure which is worse.

Freeman is going to be playing for someone next season. Maybe he sees greener grass away from Raymond James Stadium.

Perhaps this captaincy story is much ado about nothing. Maybe it will go away this weekend if Freeman can throw three touchdowns and lead the Bucs past the Saints. Maybe Freeman suddenly turns back into the quarterback he was the first half of last season, the quarterback he was in 2010, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Or maybe the Bucs lose to Saints on Sunday, get throttled by New England after that and, soon after, Schiano makes the switch from Freeman to Glennon.

We don't know for sure which will happen, but look for the latter.

That's how I'm voting.

Tom Jones can be reached at [email protected]bay.com and heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-620.

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