There’s a common thought among those who play or follow sports that winning can cure lots of ills for a sports team. The frustrations of falling short are only exacerbated by the ridiculously high competitive drive of most athletes. That’s why losing locker rooms in sports tend to be the most outwardly dysfunctional.
But so far in 2013, none have been more dysfunctional than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have earned their way onto television debate shows and the front page of every major sports news and opinion website with their recent dramatics.
It’s impossible to know if winning a few games would have actually cured the inner-turmoil for the Buccaneers and their quarterback/coach relationship. Because rather than winning and dispelling rumors, the Buccaneers found themselves in a losing streak that sparked controversy and change.
So who is to blame? Where does the drama come from, and what purpose does it serve? That question has multiple layers, which unfold when you consider the mutually destructive relationship between the Bucs, their quarteback, the media, and the fans.
The Coach and the Quarterback
Let’s start with the man who is certainly receiving more flak than praise for his handling of the team’s current losing ways. A franchise that was on a runaway train towards the bottom of the NFL needed a new head coach to put his stamp on the team and redefine the culture. That’s exactly what Greg Schiano did when he arrived in Tampa Bay.
Diets were regulated, thermostats were set at the “proper” temperature, and most importantly, toes were on the line. Schiano wasn’t going to tolerate nonsense, and jettisoned those who stood between him and a harmonious, obedient team of players. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a militaristic, authoritarian style. There are coaches in the past who have ruled with an iron fist and found success.
For Schiano, the initial success was finding a way to bring out effort from a team that largely lacked effort in its final season under Raheem Morris. And for the most part, he did just that. Since his arrival, there have been fewer fumbles, better tackling, and a general sense that the players are putting forth a very hard-working effort in every game.
But the personality and actions required to mold an NFL team full of professional athletes into a group of “Schiano Men” is more like sandpaper than it is a pillow. The former Rutgers coach did not come to Tampa Bay to make friends, and because of that he’s shipped perfectly good athletes out of town for not fitting into his system, or not giving the effort he desires.
One such player was Josh Freeman.
Freeman is a very soft-spoken, unassuming guy who by all accounts leads a very personal life, focused on his inner circle of friends and family. He was never a spokesperson for Old Spice, nor the face on every billboard in Tampa Bay promoting steakhouses and news channels.
Likewise, on the field and in the locker room, he was a cool customer. He thrived under pressure, because he was level-headed in pressure situations. There was no change in Josh Freeman’s game in fourth quarter comebacks, the only changes were those going on around him. He remained level-headed and drove his team to victory multiple times over the course of his career. He enjoyed chaotic situations, because they allowed him to freely create and move the ball down the field.
That’s not the “Schiano man.” Schiano emphasizes situational fundamentals, going over every possible outcome and making sure his players are prepared for every outcome. It’s a focus on preparing for every moment, rather than accepting and adapting to every moment. Ben Volin of the Boston Globe learned this from Mike Williams about Schiano’s style.
A few players acknowledged they didn’t quite understand at first why they had to spend so much time on basic football drills in the NFL.
“The first time it was like, ‘Yo, we know this already, why do we keep going over it?’ ” receiver Mike Williams said. “But those situations come up in games where you’ve got to use your fundamentals. In two-minute [drill], when you get tired, you’ve got to use your fundamentals. We learned that you use them when you’re not even thinking.”
Schiano is, in other words, the definition of the “Type A” personality (the grad student part of me hates citing Wikipedia, but they provide a great definition of the personality types, if you’re unfamiliar with them). Rigid preparation, strict rules, lots of structure, and prone to “getting in over their head” by bringing to much work upon themselves are defining characteristics of the Type A person, which all seem to define Schiano.
Freeman is the definition of “Type B.” His statement on being “content” should he leave Tampa Bay should go in psychology journals used to define personality types. He doesn’t stress when things go wrong. He’s not madly driven to correct every flaw about himself. That’s why he was better in crazier and more hectic situations. There’s a creative freedom that comes from not being overly focused on fundamentals, but it also leads to avoidable errors.
Were the roles reversed, and the Type B personality was coaching, the Buccaneers wouldn’t have made a quarterback change. Freeman could have done better with some changes and tweaks to the offense to better suit his skills, which was made evident when multiple teams battled for his signature when he became a free agent. There are high-ranking people in the NFL who see value in Freeman, so much so that they’re willing to sign him for multiple millions of dollars in the middle of a season to play for their team.
But Schiano couldn’t co-exist with a struggling quarterback who didn’t mesh well with his personality and his coaching style. Schiano wants a certain something out of his players, which is why he continued to pursue Mike Glennon from his high school days until he was a professional. There is a clear definition for what a “Schiano man” is, and Freeman wasn’t it.
That led to issues at One Buc Place, because benching Freeman dug up issues that may have been present from earlier in the coach and quarterback’s time together. During a press conference after Freeman’s benching, Greg Schiano was asked by an unidentifiable member of the media about trade rumors regarding Freeman dating back to the summer. There had been rumblings and rumors about Freeman wanting to leave, but this seemed to be one of the first public acknowledgements about their validity.
Schiano declined to comment and moved along, but it really makes sense given the timeline between the head coach and the player.
Ryan van Biber of SBNation did a great job of compiling the timeline of the Freeman/Schiano drama, and you can clearly see where a “trade request” from Freeman would fit during the tumultuous summer. Schiano went back and forth in his soundbites about Freeman, eventually settling on “he’s our starter.” But that wasn’t before he left the door open for another quarterback on multiple occasions, and reportedly pursued Matt Cassel and Carson Palmer over the summer as well.
So Freeman was clearly not entirely pleased to stay in Tampa Bay, and being benched unleashed the proverbial hounds. Freeman’s agent quickly became an enemy of the Buccaneers, and likely orchestrated many leaked bits of information and other dramatic moments to frustrate those at One Buc Place into getting rid of Freeman. After all, if Freeman is released, Freeman’s agent gets to work another contract, and land another paycheck.
And quite frankly, he’s well within his rights to do so. Every agent in the world has one job: get the most money for their client as possible, which in turn lands them as much money as possible. That’s yet another example of how motives and bias factored into this dramatic situation in Tampa Bay. Erik Burkhardt wanted what’s best for his client, because that’s what’s best for him. Josh Freeman being released was a top priority for the man who directly benefits financially from Josh Freeman signing a new contract.
Of course, Schiano and the Buccaneers had their own motives and bias as well. Leaked details about Freeman’s missed meetings and team meals and the fines attached to them were an unnessecary addition to a whirlwind of news and rumors about the Bucs’ prodigal quarterback.
The Freeman camp returned fire by letting the media know that Freeman was asked to miss a meeting, and they believed it was to create the illusion that Freeman was skipping the meeting. Freeman himself issued a statement following the leak of his personal medical information claiming that someone at the team facility saw him being tested and that raised questions. Because at that point, Freeman’s only goal was getting out of Tampa, but what was the Buccaneers’ goal?
For Schiano, justifying the benching and release of Freeman could give him increased job security. Having the “my irresponsible quarterback sunk my promising looking team” excuse could have been his long game in this scenario.
But it also comes down to his personality and his motivations. He wants to be the unquestioned leader of the Buccaneers, that’s his style. He talks all the time about his proven processes and winning ways from the past. In Greg Schiano’s mind, the Buccaneers needed Greg Schiano. He truly believes that he does what’s best for the team, even if the fans don’t agree.
Click “Next” to read more about the media and the fans’ role in the drama in Tampa Bay.