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Fennelly: College is definitely Greg Schiano's comfort zone

“It’s the years in Tampa where things get distorted,” Greg Schiano says of his Buc years, which were filled with criticisms of his demanding ways.
“It’s the years in Tampa where things get distorted,” Greg Schiano says of his Buc years, which were filled with criticisms of his demanding ways.
Published Dec. 30, 2016

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Inside One Buc Place, the story is legend.

It's about one of the times Greg Schiano had to step in.

It was serious.

The meatballs were too small.

The team buffet. The meatballs for the pasta, Schiano decided, were too small.

Yeah, it was like that.

Cloudy with a chance of Schiano.

Greg Schiano, 50, wears a sunny smile these days. Meet a happy man. He is back on the job after two years of sitting out after his two seasons as Bucs head coach ended with his firing following only 11 wins and all kinds of madness.

Schiano has gone back to college. He's not in charge, but he's still about details as a first-year co-defensive coordinator for Urban Meyer's Ohio State Buckeyes, who play Clemson in a national semifinal Saturday at the Fiesta Bowl.

Schiano is decidedly overqualified for his position.

He smiled.

"I was a head coach for 13 years," he said Thursday. "I'm doing this because I want to. You can say that."

He spent 11 years raising Rutgers from the dead. Great job. He spent two years with the Bucs getting buried.

Then he spent two more years in Tampa, waiting for a job he thought was the right fit, all the while collecting the balance of the $15 million on his five-year Bucs deal. He is still getting paid by Tampa Bay.

Schiano insists he never left coaching.

"Oh, I was coaching those two years," he said. Another smile. "I was coaching at Berkeley Prep. Volunteer coach. I was doing ESPN, on the NFL, four or five days a month in Connecticut. But I was working with my sons. What an opportunity. To coach your kids."

He could be back in Tampa in two weeks for the national championship game.

"I'll know the roads, at least," Schiano said, grinning.

There have been several head coaching openings this season. Schiano's name has surfaced a lot. It will surface again.

He has too much talent not to run a college program.

Repeating: a college program.

The story in Tampa was of a man who never believed in the franchise quarterback he inherited: Josh Freeman. It never worked. How Freeman has vanished into the void hasn't exactly made Schiano look bad.

But there was bringing in Darrelle Revis. Didn't work.

There was the MRSA outbreak. Bad deal.

But one of the biggest criticisms of Schiano as Bucs coach was that, as earnest as he was, he listened to one voice, his alone, and micromanaged, treating even veteran players like children.

There are stories. About road hotel rooms, Schiano's worker bees setting all the thermostats to 64 degrees. About the West Coast trip when Schiano had the Bucs stay on Eastern time. Anyone for 8 p.m. bed check? There was even Schiano doing the bed checking. He sometimes handed players Twizzlers as he went.

Twizzlers. Grown-ups.

It never worked.

Might have worked with winning. Or a quarterback.

"There is probably some truth to that," Schiano said about relating to professional players. "Now, I don't agree that I only wanted to listen to my own voice. Certain guys needed a college coach. Certain guys didn't. That's the trick in that league, that you need to be several different things to several different players.

"But I think if you ask the guys, I was better the second year."

No matter. College is where Schiano belongs. He joined Meyer's staff. The two have been friends for years. Schiano admits he wouldn't have gone to be a coordinator for many other head coaches.

"Very few, actually," Schiano said. "It was Urban. It was the fact that it was Urban and I know what he stands for. I could be comfortable. It would never be the X's and O's, wherever I go. It would be about core values."

"I think he's one of the top coaches in America," Meyer said. "He's a sounding board. He's faced a lot of situations head coaches face at the pro level and college level."

"He has so much football knowledge, it's crazy," Ohio State linebacker Raekwon McMillan said of Schiano.

"I love the relationship with the players," Schiano said. "I love teaching. I love to see them develop. I've made a lot of mistakes in my 50 years. I tell the players that you don't need to make the same ones if you'll listen. I can probably save them some trouble, help them avoid some potholes."

"The 22 or 24 years before I went to Tampa, I had a reputation of being demanding but caring about my players more than anything else. In the years after Tampa, I'm known as that again by the people I'm with. It's the years in Tampa where things get distorted. That's not real. That's not me."

Greg Schiano is one win from a return to Tampa.

He'll know the roads at least.

And the potholes.

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