1. Bucs

Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn't play it safe by hiring Greg Schiano as coach

Published Jan. 27, 2012

Somewhere, away from the cameras, far from the microphones, a conversation is going on.

Somewhere, where outsiders cannot hear, Josh is talking to Gerald, who is passing it on to Adrian, who just talked to LeGarrette, who just got off the phone with Mason, who wonders what Ronde thinks.

"So,'' the discussion begins, "what do you think about Greg Schiano?''

Somewhere, the players of the Tampa Bay Bucs are having the same conversations you are having, complete with the "who?'' and the "huh?'' and the "why?''

Odds are, their eyebrows are raised, too. Chances are, they have more questions than answers about the Bucs' latest coach. A new boss is riding in from Rutgers, and you can bet the players, too, are trying to make sense of it.

Greg Schiano?

After a search that was a month long and nationwide, that went from up-and-comer to down-and-outer, from retread to coordinator to the college campuses, the Bucs have finally brought in another coach in Schiano.

Just wondering, but who had him in the pool?

Good hire? Bad hire? For now, no one really knows. At least, Schiano is an interesting hire, one that will make you pay far closer attention than the long line of drab men in drab suits with drab resumes that the Bucs considered at one point or another.

Here's a question: Is it possible the Bucs interviewed Mike Sherman again just so Schiano would look good by comparison?

As coach hirings go, it is fair to say that Schiano does not arrive with instant gratification — not for fans and, I assume, not for players. At best, he is a give-him-a-chance kind of hire. There is a lot of proving to do before this can be called a good hire and a few playoffs before it can be called a great one.

Sexy hire? No.

The right hire? Maybe.

"I'd call it a football hire,'' Bucs general manager Mark Dominik said.

"We aren't trying to win the press conference. We're trying to win games and get the franchise going the right way.''

Is Schiano the answer? It's easy to be a skeptic. For one thing, Schiano is a college coach, and all of us can list a lot of coaches (Steve Spurrier, Dennis Erickson, Bobby Petrino) who could not bring their college success across the bridge to the NFL.

For another, the Bucs didn't exactly drag Schiano off of a trophy stand. At Rutgers, he has done a very good job at what used to be a very bad program, but I'm not sure experts would rank him with Nick Saban and Bob Stoops and Les Miles in the top handful of college coaches in America.

So is this a reach? You betcha. When you get down to it, aren't most hires?

This is a crucial point for the Bucs.

They have a young quarterback in Josh Freeman who has to rediscover success. They have a young defensive line that must mature. They need the right coach to get the attention of too many players who have gotten lost along the way.

Still, I like that the Bucs didn't play it safe. They could have hired Sherman or Brad Childress, and although people would have been unimpressed, they could have pointed out that both had a bit of success as head coaches in the NFL.

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This is better. This at least gives a team a chance at energizing its locker room, changing its fortune and, eventually, convincing its followers.

"No. 1, I like the structure, the organization, the discipline, the way he commands a room,'' Dominik said of Schiano.

"He's a defensive purist at heart. He's a fundamentalist, and he's a teacher. He's been in the NFL, and he runs a college program as close as you can to the NFL.''

Is Schiano special? He has the endorsement of Bill Belichick, which is something. He turned around a program at Rutgers, which is something else. He has a reputation for organization and hard work and sideline intensity, which is good. He's used to young players, and the Bucs locker room is stuffed with them.

Look at it like this. A lot of people have wanted to talk to Schiano about their head coaching job over the years. Miami. Michigan. Penn State. He has had his chances to move a lot.

Yeah, yeah, those are all college jobs. And college coaches often fail to adapt to the NFL game, to the millionaire athlete, to the nuances of the game. On the other hand, Jim Harbaugh of the 49ers didn't have much problem. Jimmy Johnson did okay. Tom Coughlin's career seems to have survived the move.

The Bucs believe Schiano, too, can make the transition.

"This guy has 'it,' " Dominik said. "When you spend time talking to college football people, everyone respects him.''

As of now, the important questions start with his staff. Can he find the right offensive coordinator for Freeman? Can he bring in the right defensive coordinator for Adrian Claiborne and Gerald McCoy?

For the Bucs, they liked what they heard from Schiano. Dominik thinks the players will, too.

"I know guys are talking,'' Dominik said. "I think they're getting a sense of who this guy is. He's a football coach. He's fair, but he's tough as heck.''

Is Schiano guaranteed success? Of course not. But is he a better bet than assistants Dennis Allen (Raiders), Chuck Pagano (Colts), Joe Philbin (Dolphins) or Romeo Crennel (Chiefs)? Probably. Is he preferable to Mike Mularkey (Jaguars)? Maybe. Is he a better hire than Jeff Fisher (Rams)?

That he'll have to prove.

Then again, isn't proving it the challenge of every new coach in the history of the league?