Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Schiano's fortunes turn with Bucs'

DETROIT

And now we come to the latest question about Bucs coach Greg Schiano:

Where exactly do the Glazers keep their contract extensions?

When a team manages to turn its season around, sometimes the fortunes of the head coach turn right along with it. That seems to have happened with Schiano, who suddenly seems a lot smarter — and frankly, a little more charming — that he did a month ago.

You remember, a few weeks ago everyone figured he might as well buy a ticket for a bus headed out of town, and the only question was whether he would be allowed inside it or if he would be dragged along behind it.

Ah, but look at the Bucs now. Sunday's 24-21 victory over the Lions was Tampa Bay's third in a row, which is tied for fourth among the NFL's longest current winning streaks. Flames have been doused from Schiano's chair. The buzzards have gone somewhere else to eat.

Outside the locker room, even the team owners seem impressed by the change in the Bucs.

"It speaks volumes about Greg," Joel Glazer was saying. "Tough times. The team never doubted him in the locker room."

That much seems clear these days. Outside of the locker room, however, it was easy to rip Schiano. He was portrayed as a bully, as a hard-fisted dictator, as a coach ripped out of 1958 who was clearly in over his head in today's game.

And now? Once again Schiano is safe, and once again he is in charge of tomorrow. These days he looks as resilient as the team he coaches. He believed when it was easy to question. He endured when it was popular to doubt. It is only three wins, but it seems like a million miles away from 0-8.

"For coach, this is huge," said defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. "He just kept pressing and stayed the coach. There is still a long way to go, but three straight wins is big."

The most recent one may have been the biggest of all of them. For most of the day it seemed as if the Lions had the Bucs outnumbered. The Bucs couldn't run the ball an inch, and they could barely slow the Lions. Along the way, the Bucs kept losing pieces of their defense to injuries.

Still, they won. They made enough plays on offense. They made enough interceptions on defense. They were like a fighter who takes so many punches that it wears out his opponent.

A game like this can do wonders for the career of a football coach. This wasn't the game against Miami, which had its own scandal going on, or the one against Atlanta, whose season was headed down the drain. This was a road game against a more talented team that had been very good at home, against a team that's fighting for an NFC North championship.

The Bucs, on the other hand, were playing with a bag of nickels on offense. Aside from Vincent Jackson and Davin Joseph, there isn't a lot of pedigree in the Bucs' huddle. There are journeymen and rejects, Band-Aids and duct tape. Bobby Rainey. Tiquan Underwood. Tim Wright. Jamon Meredith. Demar Dotson. And the rest of the Forgettables.

No wonder the Bucs struggled to move the ball. Unlike in their previous two games, Tampa Bay spewed engine parts whenever it tried to run. Rainey averaged only 1.9 yards per carry. Rookie quarterback Mike Glennon was sacked four times. For the day, the Bucs were outgained by 161 yards overall.

And still, they won.

If you are talking about talented players, the Lions had more of them on offense and, with the missing Bucs, more on defense. Human nature, then, suggests that you look to coaching to explain this result. You look to turnovers. You look to big plays. The Bucs had the edge in all those areas.

"Coach Schiano continues to coach us and lead us," said Underwood. "We're going to continue to fight for him. We play hard for Coach Schiano."

No, Schiano didn't pitch a perfect game. I thought he made a mistake in trying a 50-yard field goal with 3:54 to play. When Rian Lindell missed, it gave the Lions the ball with a short field and plenty of clock.

But the Bucs overcame that, too.

The point here isn't to nitpick. It's to discuss the true value of a coach in football (or a manager in baseball, for that matter). It's to set the tone in the locker room. It's to keep the focus of a team even when a season seems to be dwindling away.

Of course, a coach gets a new report card every week. And with five games to go, it is possible the Bucs' season might run into another ditch.

For now, however, Schiano seems to have righted the ship. He has outlasted the squabbles with his old, and gone, quarterback. He has endured the MRSA staph-infection headlines. He has moved on from 0-8.

Once again, it is Schiano's team.

The way things are going, you might be able to say that for some time to come.

   
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