TAMPA — Less than an hour before Greg Schiano was fired after two seasons as Bucs coach, his players were outspoken in their support and frustrated at the thought of losing him even after a 4-12 record.
Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy was unwavering Monday, noting the opinion of his play wasn't good after his first two years, which were limited by injuries. Two years later, he's headed to his second Pro Bowl.
"This is a win-now league. This is a perform-now league," McCoy said.
"You've seen it with me; my first two injuries. Everybody said, 'He's not as good as they say.' Well, now everybody's saying I am. Sometimes, it takes time."
News broke before noon that Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik had been fired, shortly after players were dismissed from their final team meeting that came and went without any sense a change was coming.
"Well damn," came the first tweet in response, from defensive end Adrian Clayborn, followed by an identical post from rookie corner Johnthan Banks.
A decent part of the Bucs' locker room is players who have been cut before and know the NFL is a cold, sometimes unforgiving business. Their connection to Schiano was on a personal level, making his departure more difficult to swallow.
"Just want to thank Coach Schiano for the opportunity to live out my dream," rookie receiver Russell Shepard tweeted. "(It) was a pleasure and honor playing for a man of such character."
Players left the facility still hopeful Schiano could return, especially the few who played for him at Rutgers such as tight end Tim Wright and receiver Tiquan Underwood.
"He's a tough guy. No matter what happened, he didn't bat an eye," Underwood said. "He just continued to come here and lead this team. You see the time he puts into it. You see that he cares and that the coaches under him also care. Guys respect him as men, and respect is something you need in the locker room."
McCoy said Schiano's leadership — with the same positivity and approach whether the team was 0-8 or had won four of five — motivated his players.
"He came in every day and was the same person regardless. He was the most consistent thing in the building," he said.
"He never changed, never wavered from his path and what he said we were going to do. Every day, he came in and said we were going to win. When you see that from your actual leader, it makes you want to play harder for him."
Greg Auman can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GregAuman.