TAMPA — Prior to becoming the Bucs' starting left guard and before he was a two-time All-Big East pick at Rutgers, Jeremy Zuttah was a New Jersey high school star with a life-altering decision to make.
He could accept an offer to play at Ohio State, a Big Ten power routinely in the national title hunt. Or he could buy into what Greg Schiano was selling: play for nearby Rutgers — in spite of its 11 consecutive losing seasons at the time.
"The ability to do something special really appealed to me," said Zuttah, who arrived at Rutgers in 2004. "We tried to put Rutgers on the map, and that's what we did."
It took a certain type of coach to make this pitch, and Schiano — who will be introduced as the Bucs' new coach today — was the man for the job.
"When he got there, they were plain losing," Zuttah said. "But he went in there with a plan. What he built there will last."
As news of Schiano's hire spread, reaction was generally positive. Known as much for his uncompromising coaching style as his devout Christian faith, there was a great deal of sentiment that he is a good fit for the Bucs given their undisciplined, inconsistent ways in 2011.
"He is a man of tremendous character," said Mike McCartney, a player agent and former NFL executive who worked with Schiano with the Bears during the 1990s. "He's very focused and very demanding, but every player will know they have a great coach who cares."
Even some who don't know him were encouraged.
"I've always thought he was a good coach," said Bucs right tackle Jeremy Trueblood, who played for Boston College when it also was in the Big East. "He turned around Rutgers very fast. I'm excited to see where he leads us."
In Piscataway, N.J., where Schiano's loss took a heavy toll, Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti summed up the coach's contributions: "I think this was the worst program in (major) college football 11 years ago. The culture change that people in college football said could never be done here, that's probably Greg's greatest attribute."
Bucs tight end Kellen Winslow had a mixed reaction while on Sirius NFL Radio.
"I was really hoping for some type of connection. I was really hoping for (Rob) Chudzinski," he said of the Panthers offensive coordinator for whom he played while with the Browns and at the University of Miami. "We got another guy in Greg Schiano who I know and heard he's one of the best coaches people have been around. And he's got a lot of enthusiasm. So I'm excited, man."
A key for any new coach is gaining his players' respect. That won't be a problem for Schiano, McCartney said: "He will have command when he stands in front of that team. He'll have instant respect."
Former Panthers linebacker and current close friend Dan Morgan, who played for Schiano at Miami, emphasized Schiano's ability to show tough love.
"He's going to be real up front with them," said Morgan, now a scout with the Seahawks. "He'll be hard on you. But you're going to love him for it because he does it for the right reasons."
USF coach Skip Holtz has split two close games with Schiano and is excited to be sharing Raymond James with him. "You go back and look at what Rutgers was before he got there, he has done an incredible job," Holtz said. "In the two years I had the opportunity to go against him, we had a couple of great battles. … Now I only have to get rid of about six more coaches."
Times staff writer Greg Auman contributed to this report.