Sunday, December 17, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Year 2 challenges Bucs' Schiano to prove worth

TAMPA — Greg Schiano likes his team's toes on the line.

As for Rex Ryan? He just likes toes.

When asked a question, Schiano might respond with a clipped, Joe Friday-like staccato. Just the facts, ma'am.

Ryan, on the other hand, is capable of turning around and answering with his back to the room. Whee!

Schiano keeps telling everyone how much he likes his quarterback.

Oh yeah? Ryan has a tattoo of his quarterback on his arm. Although, it should be pointed out it's not the quarterback who will play Sunday.

And here we go. This coach in this corner, that coach in that one. One guy who had a disappointing preseason vs. that other guy who had a disappointing preseason. One coach on a hot seat vs. another coach who doesn't want to let his to get heated.

Really, isn't that the point to a football season?

It is 16 weeks of coach vs. coach, of program vs. program, of philosophy vs. philosophy. In many ways, Sunday's game won't be the Bucs vs. the Jets. It will be Schiano vs. Ryan. And later in the year, it will be Schiano vs. Belichick and Schiano vs. Payton and Schiano vs. Harbaugh.

After all, this is Shula's league. And Lombardi's. And Walsh's and Noll's and Landry's.

All of whom, of course, feed on the Ray Perkinses of the world.

"When you're the leader of the organization, I think you set a message, you set a course," Schiano said. "It's a big job."

Ryan, the Jets coach, puts it this way: "I think you'll have an impact. You have an impact on how they practice, how they compete. Those are things that you do. And the mentality — we were a tough … football team, and this team's got resolve, always has. I think, as a coach, you maybe have a little bit (of) say in that."

Oh, other things matter, too. The quarterback and the defense and the circumstances. But as much as any professional sport, the NFL is about coaching. Major League Baseball doesn't have free substitution, and you cannot feed one guy the play repeatedly. The NHL doesn't have the constant stoppages to devise strategy. The NBA is a players league.

Ah, but in the NFL, head coaches are the generals on top of the mountain. For a week, they make their plans, and they find their mismatches, and they point their players toward the field.

Now that he is in Year 2, we will find out much about Schiano. Most of the very good coaches — Bill Walsh, Joe Gibbs, Chuck Noll, Jimmy Johnson, Tony Dungy — took significant steps forward in their second seasons. If a coach is going to be special, it is Year 2 when it begins to show itself.

Schiano's coaching career resumes with Ryan, the circus master of New York City. Already, the wolves are after Ryan, the guy who once promised that his team was going to see the president. He tweaked the Patriots' Bill Belichick. He guaranteed success. He had swagger and bluster.

These days, the charm seems to have worn off. These days, Ryan is catching grief for, of all things, missing final cuts to see his son's game at Clemson. Things have turned weird in New York.

Underneath, Ryan is still a guy who can coach a little bit. Remember, he went to the AFC title game in each of his first two seasons.

Glance at the schedule. This year, Schiano will face a lot of guys who can draw up an X or an O. In all, he faces six of the past seven coach of the year winners.

In Week 2, Schiano goes up against the Saints' Sean Payton. How many plays do you think Payton drew up during his yearlong suspension? Over his career, he has 62 wins, four playoff appearances and a Super Bowl win.

In Week 3, Belichick is on the schedule. He has three Super Bowl wins (and two losses), and he has reached the playoffs 11 times. So far, he has 187 regular-season wins.

In Week 4, Schiano goes up against Bruce Arians, the Cardinals coach who was the NFL coach of the year last season after winning nine times in Indiana­polis, as the interim head coach, in 12 games.

In Week 5, the Bucs have to try to slow down the Eagles and new coach Chip Kelly, who has brought the fast-forward speed to the NFL.

In Week 6, he faces the Falcons' Mike Smith, who has made four playoffs in five years. Smith is 56-20 as an NFL coach.

In Week 7, Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who is only 13-19, awaits.

In Week 8, the Bucs go against the Seahawks' Pete Carroll, who is coming off an 11-5 season in which Russell Wilson became a star.

In Week 13, Schiano goes against the 49ers' Jim Harbaugh, who has lost in the NFC title game and the Super Bowl in his two seasons.

In Week 15, he faces the Rams' Jeff Fisher, who has won 149 games in 18 seasons. (Although only six ended up in the playoffs.)

In other words, yes, it's a chore. If Schiano is going to indeed show significant improvement this year, it will be against some of the smartest guys in the league.

Then again, that's the job description. You win.

Either that, or you end up answering questions turned backward.

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