|Greg Schiano might lack Chip Kelly's name value but might be a better fit for the NFL. (Getty Images)|
INDIANAPOLIS -- You heard it. You hated it.
Like many, you probably had a hard time grasping the idea that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hired a college coach whose biggest bowl victories came in something called the Papajohn's.com Bowl or the Pinstripe Bowl -- never even winning a conference title -- to turn around a franchise that has seemingly been walking the proverbial plank on its own damn pirate ship.
Greg Schiano, straight from that football factory of Rutgers?
This is the man who is going to put butts back in those empty Raymond James seats, make people forget Jon Gruden and lead the Bucs to their second Lombardi Trophy? Question it all you want. I like the hire.
I like Schiano's fire.
The man deals in details. The man deals in discipline. Somewhere those two things got lost under previous coach Raheem Morris. Those Bucs were sloppy and it appeared the players viewed Morris as one of them, rather than the man to lead them, which is why he was fired and Schiano was hired after Tampa Bay went 4-12 last season.
When Schiano met the media here at the scouting combine, I came away impressed. Schiano is three weeks on the job, still putting together a staff, still meeting his players, and yet he looked calm and cool as he answered questions. Even some questions that could have rubbed him the wrong way, including when he was asked about the failures of previous college coaches making the jump to the NFL, didn't seem to sidetrack him.
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"I don't even think about it to tell you the truth," Schiano said. "I just go do my job. Why do guys struggle? There are a lot of pro guys who struggle, too. Just because they came from college, it's recognized. I don't give it a lot of thought. I know it's going to be a very challenging opportunity. It's the most competitive sports league in the world. I'm one of 32 of them, so we have to figure out a way to get it done."
Forget that Tom Coughlin, the man who just won a Super Bowl, came to the NFL from the college ranks. Sure, there have been failures -- see Steve Spurrier -- but didn't Jimmy Johnson win two Super Bowls coming from college?
That's what this reminds me of: another Johnson. Now Schiano won't have Johnson-like power, not with general manager Mark Dominik calling the personnel shots, but he will run his team with an iron fist.
But his door will be open. He said one of the things he learned during his three-year stint as an assistant secondary coach with the Chicago Bears in his previous NFL stop in the late 1990s was to listen to the players.
"One thing I learned from three years coaching in the National Football League is that I learned more from the players probably than anybody else," Schiano said. "But you have to be willing to listen."
There's nothing like a talking, real-life example of believing what you preach. Otherwise it's just press-conference speak. But as Schiano talked here, former NFL player Terry Cousin stood about 100 yards from Schiano, who happened to be Cousin's first NFL position coach with the Bears in 1998. "He always listened to us," said Cousin, who now works for the University of South Carolina football team. "He had impact on all our lives, not only as football players, but as men."
Cousin was an undrafted free agent back then and Schiano was a young assistant trying to learn his profession. His easy approach helped earn him respect with his players, Cousin said.
"He was honest," Cousin said. "He learned how to get the best out of the players. The details he taught me about the game, the techniques he showed me, allowed me to play for 12 years."
Schiano left the NFL for the college game, first at Miami, and seemed to be settled in at Rutgers. He turned down several bigger jobs over the years, saying he got "sick" thinking about leaving Rutgers, a program he helped bring out from the depths of losing.
But he said the Tampa Bay job just seemed right. Forget that he wasn't the Bucs first choice. They courted Oregon coach Chip Kelly, and seemingly had a marriage, but Kelly backed out at the altar.
Schiano is the fill-in bride.
That's OK. Sometimes, the best moves are the ones you don't make. I still can't figure out why the Bucs were even courting Kelly and his crazy spread offense. That's not an NFL offense. Neither are one-hour practices, which Kelly runs at Oregon. Schiano seems more NFL to me. And the details will get done. Remember this is a man who once was so involved with Rutgers that he actually helped design the team's new logo. He's already faced some challenges. Several of the coaches he wanted to hire were denied permission by other NFL teams. That meant adjusting on the fly, with new coaches, some he didn't know. "It's been a crazy three weeks," he said.
Crazy is what many called the Bucs owners for hiring him. But I think they got it right. This is a college coach who I say will be much more Jimmy Johnson than Steve Spurrier in the NFL.