INDIANAPOLIS — Last year in a poll of NFL players, Greg Schiano was voted the coach they would least like to play for. The survey did not include Bucs players, who might have had a thing or two to say about being under the thumb of their heavy-handed coach.
Schiano is wound tighter than a Josh Freeman spiral. Players still have to have their toes on the line when it comes to drills and discipline. But the drill sergeant approach might be toned down a bit in Year 2, Schiano says.
"We had one big thing we had to do. We had to establish a culture in the building," he said. "Sometimes you have to go overboard one way or another to get that culture established. But I think at this point, our football team understands who I am and how our football program is going to be run. I think that happened as the season went on."
The devil still is in the details for Schiano. He will continue to insist quarterbacks wear braces on the leg that strides into passes. Players may have to still carry two water bottles to meetings. But other mandatory rules could be suspended. Like what?
"Oh, just some mandatory things I don't think grown men need," Schiano said. "Take mandatory meals. If a guy is meeting his weight — we have goal weights a guy has to meet each week — if a guy is meeting his weight, I don't think they need any of our staff making sure they check in for breakfast and for lunch. They're grown men, they're professional athletes. But again, we had to establish a culture of accountability. But now they understand. And if your weight isn't where it's supposed to be, you will get checked in."
Schiano, 46, is sensitive to criticism that he overworked his players in training camp and practice during the season, as well as the perception that it led to a late swoon after a 6-4 start. Tampa Bay lost five straight before beating Atlanta in the regular-season finale to finish 7-9.
But Schiano points to the limit on padded practices in the new collective bargaining agreement and says he never has worked a football team less.
"Did you overwork them? You can't overwork a team in the National Football League the way the rules are," Schiano said. "I mean, you can't. We went out and practiced shorter than I've ever practiced in this league or any other league. And now, they don't have the pads on. What we have to do is look and say, "What are the things that help our team win games?' Then, 'Are there things we did do just to establish the culture that are no longer necessary?' "
Schiano, who established a reputation for organization and discipline in 12 seasons at Rutgers, knows the Bucs hired him in part because there was a void of discipline on a young team that went 4-12 and lost 10 straight games under Raheem Morris in 2011.
"You're brought there for a reason, otherwise you wouldn't be there," Schiano said. "Very rarely guys leave when everything is great, right? So we needed to establish that, and I think they understand what we expect."
But when the season ended, Schiano made good on his pledge to evaluate everybody, starting with himself. He also sought input from players and coaches.
"There will be a lot of changes," he said. "At the end of the year I spoke with the players, I spoke with the coaches, I took all their input, did some surveys, that sort of thing. I believe that kind of feedback is critical. And then you kind of step back and looked at it. What worked? What didn't work? Why did it work or why didn't it work? Then make some assumptions and then move forward."
Schiano said he believes the Bucs have enough veteran leadership — from receiver Vincent Jackson to guard Davin Joseph — so he doesn't have to be the heavy.
"What I'm really pleased about is that our leadership will teach the new guys that," he said. "Everyone was rookies as far as our way of doing things. Now only our rookies will be rookies and our free agents. We can teach them how we do things. I'm looking forward to that too because I like coaching football, and I like developing a relationship with our players and a lot of times, when you're establishing something, that has to take a backseat because of the greater good of the group. I'm looking forward to just being a coach."
Rick Stroud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and can be heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-620.