Thursday, January 18, 2018
Sports

Tampa Bay's coaches share tips at Sneaker Soiree

TAMPA

They are as different as the sports they lead.

There's Rays manager Joe Maddon. He's the dean of Tampa Bay sports, having skippered the Rays for eight seasons now. Born in Pennsylvania, but California cool. Laid back. The personality of a hippie. A baseball lifer.

There's Bucs coach Greg Schiano. Jersey kid. Hard-nosed, no-nonsense, set in his ways. Yet charismatic. A former college coach. He has been around these parts for a year.

Then there's the new guy, Lightning coach Jon Cooper, hired late last season. Raised in British Columbia. A lawyer who somehow fell into coaching kids and kept getting promoted until he landed in the best league in the world. Smart. An odd cat, but in the best possible sense.

All three met for the first time Thursday night in Tampa at the third annual Sneaker Soiree, which celebrates the best in Tampa Bay sports and sports business.

They sat at a bar and sipped beer and talked about being coaches.

But here's the thing you notice about the three after you've sifted through all of their differences in upbringing, background, experience and personality: They really are all very much alike.

Their methods might be different, but their passion for winning is the same and it all begins and ends with one thing. And, really, at the end of the day, it's the key to coaching.

"Communication," Schiano said. "In the end, it's all about communication."

It's all about reaching players, getting the most out of them in good times and bad, during winning streaks and losing droughts, during postseason runs and below .500 seasons.

For Maddon, it's reaching into a bag of tricks, like bringing in DJs, chasing penguins and cockatoos and magicians around the clubhouse. It's dressing up for road trips and giving hugs even when a player goes 0-for-4 or gives up a walk-off homer.

"There's already so much pressure on the boys," Maddon said. "There is always so much going on. Treat it as it's supposed to be treated. It's a game. It's not life and death. If they show up with a clear mind and not a heavy cloud over their head, they will be fine. Give them freedom. They are, for the most part, grown-ups. Give them some latitude and you're going to get much greater return.

"Keep it loose, keep it fun."

And that's what Maddon has done regardless of the circumstances. It's what he does when the Rays win, and it's what he especially does when the Rays struggle. It's, perhaps, his greatest strength.

"One thing about Joe is he is as steady as he goes," Schiano said.

So what does a toes-on-the-line, blowing-the-whistle task-master like Schiano think when Maddon is opening up his clubhouse to a merengue band?

"You got to do what's in your personality," Schiano said.

And would he ever do such a thing?

"You got to do what's in your personality," Schiano said with a laugh.

Even Schiano knows he would be the last guy to be your everyday Joe. It's simply not in his personality. For Schiano, he has a plan in mind and a way to carry out that plan.

"You have to stay the course because you know there are going to be changes around you," Schiano said. "You have to be willing to adapt, but you have to stick to your guns, too."

Meantime, Cooper is more like "Merlot Joe" than tough-guy Greg. During a lengthy losing streak in the minors, he turned the locker room into a game room complete with a dartboard tournament.

"These players work so darn hard and there's so much competition," Cooper said. "It's all-consuming. Not only of the body, but the mind. And you've got to keep it loose."

Their conversation at the bar ended and as the crowd started to thin out, you were left wondering what was the best way to coach a team.

Is it Maddon with his circus animals and live music and even-keel ways? Is it Schiano with his discipline and obsessive attention to details? Is it Cooper with his calm demeanor that rarely incorporates yelling?

What, exactly, is the right way?

Cooper smiles and says, "The winning way. That's the right way."

     
 
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