Although it might be hard for their faithful to admit, the Bucs are a team still under construction. So when they went in search of a new coach, they looked for someone who could build a lasting contender.
They are convinced Greg Schiano has the blueprint.
Schiano, 45, who took Rutgers from a laughingstock to perennial Big East contender, was hired Thursday.
The selection of Schiano (pronounced SHE-ah-no)after a 24-day search,which included 11 known candidates, might say as much about where the Bucs are as a franchise as the man they picked to lead it.
Coming off a 4-12 season, capped by10 losses that led to the firing of Raheem Morris, the Glazer family, which owns the Bucs, and general manager Mark Dominik view Schiano as a serious, hands-on coach who knows how to make a few repairs.
"The reason we hired Schiano is because of what he is defensively; what he's done not only as a coordinator, but certainly as a head coach," Dominik said. "It's the way he took the Rutgers program and what he built it into. That certainly was part of the decisionmaking process.
"We liked his leadership, his structure, his organization, and he's a football guy through and through. He is a strong believer in fundamentals and tackling, which is a lost art in the NFL somewhat. He's got a strong demeanor and presence to him. I know his work ethic. When you talk around the league and do the research, there's a lot of respect for him as a football coach. And that's the big thing - to get our team at a consistent level and beyond."
Schiano's hiring came three days after University of Oregon coach Chip Kelly accepted the coaching job only to change his mind a few hours later. Schiano will be introduced at One Buc Place today during a 1 p.m. news conference, which will air on Bright House Sports Network.
Dominik said he will retain authority on personnel decisions, similar to the structure he had with Morris, who went 17-31 over three seasons.
"His involvement in personnel matters will be as strong as ever," Dominik said. "It will be the same kind of working relationship we've always had with the head coach. We'll all work together to get the right players.''
The first order of business, Dominik said, will be assisting Schiano in hiring a coaching staff.
On Thursday, Tampa Bay asked for permission to interview Cardinals receiver coach John McNulty, who was Schiano's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Rutgers from 2004-08. There's speculation that former Miami Hurricanes, Browns and North Carolina coach Butch Davis also could join the Bucs staff.
"I'll also be a resource and work with him on hiring a coaching staff and provide names and a sounding board," Dominik said. "We share a common interest in a few (candidates). We'll take our time. We're not in a rush to fill the staff."
Schiano was the biggest surprise among the three finalists for the coaching job, which included former Packers and Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman and Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski.
The Bucs reportedly did a lot of background research on Schiano, even calling Super Bowl-bound Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who gave his endorsement.
Even though Schiano remained under the media radar, Bucs scout Bill Rees remained in contact with him from the outset of the process. Schiano interviewed with the Glazers recently in Dallas and was invited to a second meeting Wednesday, Dominik said.
Terms of the contract were not announced. But at Rutgers, Schiano earned about $2.35 million per year on a contract that ran through 2016.
Players at Rutgers learned of Schiano's impending departure during morning workouts by watching television.
"I'm shocked," senior safety David Rowe told the Newark Star-Ledger. "All the players are shocked. I didn't find out until this morning when my girlfriend told me I needed to watch ESPN. That's how I heard."
Rutgers' assistants, including new interim coach Kyle Flood, said they knew something was up when Schiano did not show up for a planned recruiting visit at a high school.
Schiano had what was described as an emotional meeting with Rutgers players and assistants for about 25 minutes at 3 p.m. to inform them of his decision.
Like Morris, Schiano has a defensive background. But a priority for his coaching staff will be to get quarterback Josh Freeman on track after he threw 16 touchdowns and 22 interceptions last season.
"The plan for Freeman will be the same as it is with the rest of the team," Dominik said. "Get him back on track and ready to learn a new system and get him playing more consistently."
Freeman said Thursday that he was flying from Kansas City to Tampa to meet with Schiano. "I'm really excited," Freeman said.
It's not the first time Schiano has been considered for an NFL job this year. He was a finalist for the Rams job that went to Jeff Fisher.
Schiano took over at Rutgers on Dec. 1, 2000, and transformed it from a doormat to a Big East power. Since 2006, Schiano is 49-28, and he went 68-67 (28-48 in the Big East) in 11 seasons. Rutgers has appeared in six bowl games but never won the Big East title.
Before taking over at Rutgers, Schiano was the Miami Hurricanes' defensive coordinator for two seasons.
Schiano's only experience in the NFL came from 1996-98. He was a defensive assistant with the Bears for two seasons and coached defensive backs for one.
Bucs co-chairman Joel Glazer said Schiano made a great impression during interviews.
"During our thorough search, we met with numerous impressive candidates, but coach Schiano surely distinguished himself," Glazer said. "From his leadership skills to his impressive track record, he is, simply put, the right man for the job."
Schiano is a favorite of Belichick, who said he wasn't surprised of the news that he was headed to the NFL. The Patriots, who will play in the Super Bowl on Feb. 5, have three Rutgers players on their roster.
"Greg, obviously, has done a great job at Rutgers," Belichick said Thursday. "I think he is a tremendous coach that's done a great job with that program. And his players have been very NFL-ready. Guys that come out of that program, when they get to the NFL, most of them make it."
In addition to Sherman and Chudzinski, the Bucs met with such candidates asBengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, former Vikings coach Brad Childress, Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray, former Browns, Chiefs, Redskins and Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer and Packers quarterbacks coach Tom Clements. The Bucs believe they have the foundation for a winning franchise. Now it's up to Schiano to build on that.