What’s gone wrong for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this season? Well six losses in six games, for starters. That winless one-third of a season tops the list, but doesn’t even come close to completing it. The 2013 Bucs will be a case study for decades—a lesson in how one bad chef can make an inedible mess of even the finest ingredients.
Currently the 0-6 Buccaneers—a team that went 7-9 a year ago and was thought to have underachieved—employ: A Pro Bowl running back who took the league by storm in his rookie season with nearly 2,000 yards from scrimmage; a battle-hardened No. 1 receiver with three Pro Bowls and four 1,000-yard seasons; the league’s consensus choice as the best one-on-one cornerback in football; a Pro Bowl defensive tackle; and a second-year linebacker and safety who were both members of the all-rookie team in their first seasons.
This is a team that was generally thought to be one of the more talented rosters in football—if not Super Bowl contenders, they were at least perceived as a .500 team with enough playmakers to give even the most dominant opponents a scare.
But here they are—six weeks in with nothing to show for it. Well, nothing except a litany of controversies, failures and scary medical issues. It began with a first-benched-then-released quarterback who feels someone in the team leaked his confidential medical records. Then, an NFLPA investigation into that leak hinted strongly that head coach Greg Schiano was responsible. (Josh Freeman, by the way, is fine if you were wondering—he’s free of Schiano’s yoke and will make his first start for the Vikings on Monday Night Football against the Giants, which at least has the potential to twist the knife deeper into the gut of poor Buccaneers fans.)
Meanwhile, former Bucs players called for the coach’s firing while off-the-record comments from agents of current players reported an atmosphere of “fear and distrust” in the locker room with players wary of cameras watching them. And, of course, a lingering staph infection that has afflicted three Buccaneers already and reportedly had the NFL and NFLPA in talks about whether or not it was appropriate to postpone Sunday’s game. (They ultimately played after a report said there was no risk of infection at the facility.)
Of that long, sad list, only the staph infection can’t be laid at the door of the man ultimately responsible for the team. And make no mistake, the Greg Schiano Era is on pace to go down as the NFL’s ultimate lesson in why hardnosed college coaches can fail miserably on the professional level.
The optics of the situation are summed up perfectly in Schiano’s signature play—a bush-league, late-game tactic that was ridiculed the first time it was used and has only become more embarrassing since.
But Schiano insists he won’t stop being Greg Schiano, along with everything that entails—most notably, rushing the opponent’s victory formation.
If this sounds like the kind of my-way-or-the-highway insanity you’d expect to find at a Div. II program run by a Lombardi wannabe who uses his power over college kids to rule his little corner of the world with an iron fist, well…it kind of is.
If it also sounds like the kind of misguided approach that would be an utter failure when practiced on adult millionaires at the professional level, it’s because that, too, is true. Schiano’s day of reckoning is coming—and it may be that the only thing delaying it is that the Bucs current course promises a top-three pick in a loaded draft. Sometimes you don’t want to mess with success, even when success comes disguised as abysmal, humiliating failure.
Schiano has done nothing in his 18 months in the NFL if not teach a master class on how to lose games and alienate people. It’s impossible to pin down what makes a good NFL coach. Like success in other fields, there are many paths to the upper echelon. But it’s not hard to figure out what makes a bad one. It becomes obvious quickly.
In Schiano’s case, it was the first time his defensive line dove into the opposing offence as they were kneeling down to end the game—and you can find the three worst aspects of Schiano’s approach to NFL coaching within this one on-field tactic.
1. Not respecting his own players
The first time Schiano tried the play at the NFL level, Giants tackle Sean Locklear claimed that Bucs players told the Giants they didn’t want to dive at the knees of the Giants. “It’s one of those things like they didn’t want to do it, but you do what you are told,” Locklear said afterward.
“We do what we’re coached. I’ll leave it at that,” Bucs tackle Gerald McCoy said.
It’s one thing to order your players to hit harder, run extra reps in practice and wake up early for a walkthrough—it’s another to ask professionals to run an unnecessary play that could potentially injure other pros. Nobody’s eager to ruin another player’s livelihood on a meaningless play.
2. Refusing to acknowledge that there is difference between Rutgers and the National Football League.
“I don’t know if that’s not something that’s done in the National Football League,” Schiano has said of the tactic. Of course, by now he does know, because he’s been told. Repeatedly. He just refuses to fall in line. It’s not that college tactics can never be adapted to the NFL—innovation from NCAA minds is one of the main things that keeps the league evolving—but usually the tactics that make the leap are ones that a) have a point and b) work, at least occasionally. It’s not an example of playing hard until the final whistle, as Schiano says. It’s a matter of willfully refusing to acknowledge reality—being different for the sake of standing out.
3. A willingness to sacrifice others to achieve meaningless goals.
If you accept that Schiano’s players would rather not attempt this embarrassing tactic, a play that has never worked even once for Schiano—not at Rutgers, and not in the NFL—then it becomes a meaningless example of proving a point. The point being that “Uhhh, my guys play hard all the time?” This is the football coach’s equivalent of a shortstop diving for a ground ball six feet out of his reach just to get his uniform dirty. You can make a case for yourself, but it still accomplishes nothing.
Look around at the best coaches in the NFL—do you see any of them doing a single thing unless they feel it gives their team a better chance of winning? If this play actually had an impact on the outcome of the game, would Bill Belichick refuse to use it because he respects the code? It’s hard to imagine Belichick abiding by the fire code if he thought breaking it would give his team an advantage, let alone some collection of unwritten football conventions. He doesn’t do it because it’s pointless, and good coaches don’t waste time on pointless, superficial stunts.
The strategies and attitude Schiano brought from Rutgers are not original to him, they’re ideas born of smaller schools everywhere hoping to get noticed, hoping to shock the world and make a name for themselves with unlikely success. They are the flashy sports car bought by the guy with…well, you know.
None of that hoping-to-get-noticed nonsense applies to Schiano’s current job description, though. And the real irony is that his tactics have not only torpedoed the Bucs’ season—and nearly Josh Freeman’s career—they have succeeded in making a name for Schiano, as a lesson in how not to move from college to the pros. His team is collateral damage.