TAMPA — Greg Schiano didn't set out to get inside the headset of Bill Belichick. It's not as if he asked to take a peek under the hoodie. In fact, his relationship with the Patriots coach was more the result of destiny than design.
Belichick's son, Stephen, enrolled at Rutgers and was a four-year letterman on the men's lacrosse team that shared the same athletic building where Schiano worked the past 11 years rebuilding the Scarlet Knights football program. Last season, before Schiano was hired to coach the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Stephen decided to play one year of football as the team's long snapper.
"When he first came to Rutgers, (Stephen) talked to me about being a long snapper. But he was a lacrosse player," Schiano said. "I said, 'Well, first figure out how lacrosse is going.' He played for four years and came to me and said, 'I'd like to do it my fifth year.' I said, 'Absolutely.' Before that, I kind of knew Coach (Belichick), but once Stephen began going to Rutgers, he'd be down there a lot to see his son and every time I saw him we'd talk football."
Schiano and Belichick reunite today and Thursday as the Patriots and Bucs hold joint practices in preparation for their preseason game Friday at Raymond James Stadium.
It's easy to see a lot of similarities in their philosophies. Both are highly organized and disciplined tough guys who are good at evaluating an opponent's strengths and preventing other teams from exploiting their players' weaknesses. They are reluctant to share injury information, and minimize media access. They prefer to have the only voice on team matters.
"Schematically, we're different," Schiano said. "It's just the game in general we share. The approach. The thinking, the perspective of it. Dealing with players. He knows every player in the National Football League. He has it up here. I've got books I'm checking and reading. He's got it in one book. That's neat to just talk about players and he's been doing it for so long. Because it's all about players."
Of course, the comparisons end there. Belichick, 60, is a three-time NFL coach of the year who has won three Super Bowls with the Patriots and has had his team in the league's title game five times.
The last time Schiano, 46, was in the NFL, he was coaching defensive backs for the Chicago Bears 14 years ago. Despite all his success at Rutgers, Schiano was unable to win a Big East title.
"I think if he didn't have the achievement he's had, it wouldn't matter what he did, right?" Schiano said of Belichick. "His achievements are what make people look at him and say, 'What's he doing different than everybody else?' But once you start to unpeel that, you see what's different. He kind of has a very unique ability, because of his expertise of the game, of simplifying things for the players and preparing the players. It's about what can the players understand and use to their advantage when they hit the field? That's what coaching is. That and I think his experience in personnel. I think he's very, very sharp in that. So you take the ability to teach — really that's what simplifying is — and you take the ability to identify personnel matches."
Long before Belichick wandered onto the campus of Rutgers to check out his son's lacrosse team, he knew of Schiano's work. The Patriots have had a couple of Schiano's former players on their roster and Belichick was always struck by how well-prepared they were for the NFL.
"When you're a young coach, you go to clinics and have pads full of notes," Schiano said. "But as you get on in coaching, you know who you are and what you believe in so maybe you go someplace and come away with a note or two. He's the one guy who, when I sit with him, I still have two pages of notes. That kind of tells you how bright he is. He's treated me very well. I can't say enough great things."
It's no surprise that the Patriots, in the midst of playing three preseason games in 10 days, agreed to hold joint practices with the Bucs. The Patriots have continued the practice for years and Schiano was a fan of the dual workouts when he was a Bears assistant.
"I know it's going to be a benefit for us and I don't think Coach Belichick would bring them down if it wasn't going to be a benefit for them," Schiano said.
When the Glazer family, which owns the Bucs, telephoned Belichick during their 26-day coaching search in January to get a feel for his opinion on Schiano, his positive endorsement could not have carried more weight.
"I have a lot of respect for Greg, what he's done, the way he runs his team, his knowledge of the game," Belichick said. "He does a great job."
Schiano says of the impact of Belichick's endorsement: "I'm sure it meant the world, for a guy who hasn't been a coach in the NFL and a guy who has won three Super Bowls. No, I'm very grateful for all of that."
Will Schiano be successful in the NFL?
"I think he's an excellent coach," Belichick said. "Absolutely."