Dec 16, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano watches his team from the sidelines against the New Orleans Saints during second quarter of their game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Back to School: Why Buccaneers Head Coach Greg Schiano Still Has Much to Learn About the NFL

Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The Buccaneers have been in the news this week for the wrong reasons, as anonymous comments about Bucs head coach Greg Schiano and his staff surfaced. A player was quoted as saying that the coaches should be “sent back to college.”

In his typical stoic manner with his usual dry sense of humor, Schiano admitted that, when in college at Bucknell, he “wasn’t a great student, but (he) got the degree,” so he has no need to go back. While I do quite enjoy a good zinger once in a while, I feel like there is some worthwhile truth in the original comment and Schiano’s response that need to be addressed.

Perhaps Tampa Bay’s new coach should head back to college, to learn the things he missed while “just getting his degree.”

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

History Lesson

I am only two and a half years removed from completing my college career, and remember my college days well. The temptation to just skate by and shuck responsibility was great, especially in courses that I just didn’t care about. Economics 101 was a perfect example, as I spent more time playing Risk on my laptop than I did listening to lectures.

I passed the class, and my professor and I went on with life without being directly affected with any negative side effects of my apathy.  But what did I miss in that class that could have potentially changed the path of my life since?

The answer is likely “nothing,” but there were certainly other classes, meetings, and events that were shunned similarly that may have provided useful information or experience that would have been beneficial in the time that has since passed.

In the case of Coach Schiano, it may have been his time spent as a college employee, rather than as a student, where information was missed, experiences were wasted, and opportunities were undermined.  His time spent at Rutgers is typically viewed favorably, but his success was hardly overwhelming.

Rutgers, despite being involved in the earliest history of college football, was a program in disarray, having not celebrated a winning season in nearly a decade. Schiano came in as head coach, and took five years to earn a winning season and bowl bid, and followed it up with his most memorable season as head coach at “The State University of New Jersey,” leading the team to 11 wins and peaking at 7th in the AP poll. Schiano would continue to lead Rutgers to bowl games, failing to secure a winning record only once more, before leaving for One Buc Place.

Overall, there was certainly plenty of positive aspects, but also plenty of opportunities to coast through easy schedules, and develop habits that would haunt him in the future.

I will admit that the turnaround that Schiano inspired is impressive in the sense that he brought Rutgers back into the average college football fan’s consciousness. His qualifications as an NFL head coach might not have been as impressive, as the leap from being a moderately successful Big East coach to an NFL coach is about the same as going from dealing a Saturday night poker game with friends to being the dealer at the final table of the World Series of Poker.

Schiano certainly has the personality to be a Bill Belichick stand-in at a press conference microphone, but unlike his mentor from the Patriots, Greg does not have a strong NFL pedigree to rely upon.  His 3 seasons spent on the Chicago Bears coaching staff saw “Da Bears” suffer 33 defeats, and Schiano smartly moved along to the college ranks.

Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

More Than a Popularity Contest

Considering Schiano’s past, there is room for an observer to consider his ascension to the NFL as a perfect fit, as his professional demeanor and commitment to “the basics” and personal accountability are valuable at any level.

But good intentions do not always bear good fruit. Schiano’s obsession with order, and his guidelines and rules surrounding the conduct and behavior of players has not been met positively. Take a look at a quote from an NFC offensive player given to the Sporting News for their “NFL Coach you’d least like to play for” poll, which Schiano “won”:

Schiano seems like he’d be hard to play for. He’s too intense and does a lot of strange things. This isn’t college anymore.

Other players commented on “kneel-downgate,” which has been discussed ad nauseum. The point is that players around the league do not respect Schiano’s tactics when viewed from afar, and see him as a gimmicky college guy who is too “toes on the line” for their tastes.

Being an NFL coach is no room for a “Laissez-faire” approach, either, but as is the case with most things in life, balance and happy mediums are required. And while Schiano is in good company at the top of the least likable coaches poll (Belichick, Rex Ryan, and Tom Coughlin are in the top 5 with Schiano), Greg lacks the playoff victories and Super Bowl rings found amongst those other unpopular head coaches. In fact, at the time of the poll, Schiano was still getting used to life in the NFL, and had already built up a negative track record across the league.

More importantly, I believe that the strategies and in-game player management tactics employed by Schiano have been lacking this season.

The Buccaneers have been within a possession of wining in every game that ended in defeat prior to the debacle in New Orleans. That means that any singular coaching decision could have led to a victory rather than a defeat.

As BucsNation discussed earlier this month, the defense the Buccaneers currently employ is “all on Greg Schiano.” When we play back the game tape of the Buccaneers most frustrating loss of the season, we can clearly see a stubborn approach to defense as the Buccaneers undoing.

Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Educational Films

The Eagles were down by 11, and at midfield, fairly late in the fourth quarter. The Buccaneers seemed to have a victory in their grasp as Nick Foles led the unimpressive Philly offense down the field. It was 3rd and 10 at the Buccaneers 48, and Foles made one of the most important throws of the game.

The Buccaneers lined up with two deep safeties, and rushed four linemen. Philly had two crossing routes, one at 3 yards and one at 10 yards. The receiver running the more shallow route is being covered perfectly, and would have had no chance at converting a first down. However, the deeper crossing Eagle was Jeremy Maclin, who ran right at Mark Barron, and continued across the field, where no further defenders awaited him.

The other safety, Ronde Barber, was 15 yards deeper than the play, and the linebackers were occupied by the shallow route. I’m sure everyone is thinking “Yeah, so what’s the problem with Schiano specifically, that’s a pretty standard defense?” It was the same exact coverage (and same player targeted, Barron) that set up the Eagles position at midfield, when Foles connected with Maclin on 3rd and 14.

It’s also the same defensive play call that led to the Clay Harbor touchdown later on that drive, and the Jason Avant sliding catch at the 1 yard line that set up the infamous final scoring play. It’s this kind of stubborn play calling, and the persistence upon placing a player in a position in which he is unable to succeed, that shows that there are lessons Schiano has yet to learn.

Ronde Barber is a better than average defender of receivers in zone and man-to-man situations, and he was always the safety who helped the cornerbacks with their responsibilities, leaving Barron in a no-man’s land 15-20 yards down-field, where he simply could not read and react in sufficient time. It’s easy to pin the loss on Mark Barron, and while he has to take some of the blame, he was not put into a position to succeed by his coaches.

Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not just the defense, either. Schiano had preached a commitment to running the ball in the offseason, and had an opportunity to fulfill his own prophesy week 3 against the Cowboys. Down by 6, in a game where both teams struggled to move the ball, Schiano’s Buccanneers started a drive at the Dallas 12 in their first possession of the fourth quarter. Doug Martin had his number called, he gained 3 yards, and the Buccaneers were in 2nd and 7.

Troy Aikman commented on the FOX broadcast that he wasn’t sure what the Buccaneers were trying to accomplish, and that running on first down had yet to yield any positive results. The Buccaneers would go three and out.

They would then start their next drive with a first down run, and end it with a punt after a three and out.  Tampa Bay would get the ball back, down 9, with just about three minutes left to play, and lined up in the shotgun.

And Josh Freeman handed the ball off to Doug Martin. Martin was stopped for a one yard gain.

Troy Aikman joined many Buccaneers fans in saying, “You have got to be kidding me.”

Aikman, and the rest of Buccaneer nation, would scratch their heads once again when Martin toted the ball for a loss on 3rd down and 9 with barely over two minutes left. Josh Freeman bailed the Buccaneers out with a fourth down conversion, but the point was clear. The Schiano era Buccaneers were going to go down with their ship. And it was on that week we truly started to see the stubborn nature of the Bucknell graduate.

Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Consistently Inconsistent

Remember that the stubborn nature of Schiano has taken many different forms. The kneel-down play was an example of “playing until the final whistle” and never giving up. However, just a week later, the same Schiano team was running doomed-to-fail running plays down by two possessions in the fourth quarter, and doing so repeatedly.

While both of these incidents display a commitment to a methodology and a blueprint for future performances, they contradict one another fundamentally. I believe that’s the main problem with Coach Schiano’s Buccaneers, is there are too many fundamental flaws. Everyone should have their toes on the line in practice, but the team shows a lack of discipline on the field, and is among the top 10 in penalties this season.

Everyone should fight until the end of the game, but playcalling in end-of-game situations, as demonstrated above, shows a lack of faith in the players, or a stubborn refusal to abandon preconceived game plans.

If the Buccaneers are about “trust, belief, and accountability” as all the radio and TV commercials about the Buccaneers will remind us, then give us something to believe in, and we’ll start to trust the leadership of Greg Schaino. Otherwise, he should be held accountable for the stubborn mistakes, and be sent on his “Buccaneer Way” out of town.

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