Saturday, May 26, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Schiano minimizes Bucs' distractions

TAMPA

In Philadelphia, the mess is over a player unleashing a nasty racial slur.

San Francisco had a guy make homophobic remarks the week before the Super Bowl.

New England seems to collect controversial characters.

In other cites, the distractions are not nearly as serious, but nevertheless a nuisance: a Broncos star suspended for drug use, a Saints coach returning after okaying bounties on opponents. And there's always the usual array of arrests, suspensions and malcontents bellyaching about money or playing time or the ever-popular "lack of respect.''

But you have to do plenty of digging to find something that passes as mildly disputatious in Tampa Bay.

Let's see. The running back hates his Muscle Hamster nickname. The quarterback owns a bunch of snakes. In these parts, that's the juicy stuff. That's it, for the moment. No dog-fighting rings. No late-night shenanigans at a Taco Bell drive-through. We can't even round up a Kardashian to toss into a sketchy rumor.

Credit coach Greg Schiano for this. He came to Tampa Bay with a plan of changing the culture and building a winner. The winning part remains a work in progress, but the culture appears well on the way to being changed.

In his 18-plus months on the job, Schiano has established a my-way-or-the-highway style that has the Bucs concentrating on game plans and schemes instead of hearings and P.R.-issued apologies.

It doesn't mean the Bucs are full of players who spend their free time helping little old ladies across the street and rescuing kittens from trees. It also doesn't mean Bucs players won't be suspended or arrested on Schiano's watch. In fact, those things have already happened and likely will happen again.

But look at how Schiano has dealt with such problems and, perhaps, that's a big reason why the Bucs seem so void of distractions now.

Not long after Schiano arrived in town, he — and, to give full credit, general manager Mark Dominik — saw what a headache Kellen Winslow had become and booted him out of Tampa Bay, though the tight end was one of the team's best players.

Schiano tossed troubled defensive standouts Tanard Jackson and Brian Price overboard though their potential might have outweighed the risk of possible problems.

When cornerback Aqib Talib added a drug suspension to his history of mayhem, the club shipped Talib out though he was, arguably, the most gifted player on a team desperate for gifted players. When cornerback Eric Wright, another player suspended for drug use, goofed up his second chance this offseason, the Bucs tried to trade him and when that fell through, they released him.

In all of those cases, the problems didn't last long enough to become a distraction.

Schiano's attack has been simple: He would rather cut out the poison than find an antidote.

Now, would Schiano be so quick to lop off an important piece such as quarterback Josh Freeman or wide receiver Vincent Jackson or safety Mark Barron for some of the same transgressions that earned Talib or Wright or Winslow a ticket out of town?

Realistically, probably not. The bigger the talent, the greater the tolerance. But Schiano must be credited with trying to build with character and good old-fashioned elbow grease.

"The mind-set of this football team,'' said safety Dashon Goldson when asked why he signed with the Bucs. "The work has been good. Everybody puts in the work. Nobody complains.''

When given a chance to take the credit, Schiano turns that credit over to his leaders.

"We have good leadership,'' he said. "And our leadership beats the drum. It pounds the message. That's all you need. Once you get the players reinforcing the message, then you get to coach. And that's the secret: how fast you get to coach and not worry about all the other peripheral (stuff).''

A year ago at this time, Schiano was still laying the groundwork. He was the toes-on-the-line coach, the one blowing the whistle and obsessing over how many water bottles the players carried around and what the room temperature was. Eventually, players either put their toes on the yard line or put them on the unemployment one.

Now, a year later, you can see that all those details were simply a way to jump-start the change in culture. Now, Schiano isn't counting water bottles or checking temperatures. Now, he's coaching football. And, the leaders are so conditioned to his ways that they nip problems before they ever become public, or even get to Schiano.

"Absolutely,'' Schiano said. "And they bring the problems to me that they feel might be there. I learned in my first go-around in this league that you learn the most from the players. … So, I always listen. I don't always agree. And sometimes I don't go for it. But I always listen and have a very open mind because, at the end of the day, they are grown men and they want to win just as bad as I do.

"And together, we'll find a way to do that.''

Or else, some of them will find their way in another city, where they can be someone else's distraction.

Tom Jones can be reached at [email protected]om or (727) 893-8544 and can be heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-620.

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