When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hired Greg Schiano as their head coach in January the common reaction around the NFL was 'Huh?'
Greg Schiano? A guy with no NFL head-coaching experience? A guy with a 68-67 career college coaching record who coached one ranked team in 11 years? From Rutgers? In the Big East Conference? What the heck are the Buccaneers thinking?
Thing is, Schiano as head coach of the Buccaneers seems to be working. The Buccaneers defeated the Carolina Panthers, 16-10, in Week 1 and come to MetLife Stadium Sunday looking to continue to establish themselves as a legitimate team a season after going 4-12.
At Rutgers, Schiano turned around a moribund program that had suffered five straight losing seasons and was not on anyone's national radar, taking the Scarlet Knights to bowl games six times in his last seven seasons in Piscataway. He guided Rutgers to an 11-2 record in 2006 and achieved the Scarlet Knights first national ranking since 1976. He is trying to engineer a similar turnaround with the Buccaneers, who sandwiched 3-13 and 4-12 seasons around a 10-6 2010 season.
Veteran cornerback Ronde Barber, a Buccaneer since 1997, likes what he sees thus far.
"Whatever he's doing, it's working. He's very specific and very detail-oriented. You can call it whatever you want to, but we are a very attention-to-detail organization all the way down to the players. It's working for us," Barber said. "He was successful turning that program [Rutgers] around. I didn't follow Rutgers all that much, they were in the Big East, and USF was in the Big East, so I crossed them every once in a while when they played our guys down here. I don't see why what he did there to make himself successful couldn't translate to the league, and so far it seems like he has."
What is Schiano doing in Tampa Bay? The Asbury Park Press says he is building his program with the Buccaneers exactly the same way he did in Piscataway.
His staff includes 10 former Rutgers assistants and his roster is sprinkled with some Scarlet Knights flavor as well. So anyone thinking Schiano wouldn't carry over most of the things he did while coaching at Rutgers for the past 11 years is probably naïve to the way the 46-year old Wyckoff, Bergen County, native conducts business.
"He's the same guy, the same coach,'' says Buccaneers center Jeremy Zuttah, who played for the Scarlet Knights from 2004-07. "He takes the same approach to the game. He's the same tireless worker, and he's going to do everything he can to get the job done.''
During a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, Schiano spoke about what he is trying to bring to Tampa Bay.
"We have a set of beliefs and core values that I think we have begun to instill here. It takes time, it doesn't happen overnight. We do have a great group of guys on the team. They desperately want to be good. They work very hard. We'll see how that goes," Schiano said. "The other team has something to say about that, but I have no complaints about the way these guys have worked and embraced the changes."
Schiano will be in familiar terrain when he brings the Buccaneers to MetLife Stadium Sunday to the face the New York Giants. He has no time for sentimentality, however.
"It is going home and all that stuff, but at the end of the day, it's a 24-hour trip that is one-sixteenth of your season, so I don't have time to get real sentimental. The nice thing is that I'm familiar with the area and familiar with the stadium, the hotel, all that stuff. At least that makes it better," Schiano said. "We're coming home to play the defending Super Bowl champions who are not in a real good mood right now, so we need to bring our best game just to have a chance to win."
Prior to coaching at Rutgers, Schiano had NFL experience as a defensive assistant with the Chicago Bears form 1996 to 1998. There had been rumors at various times during his stay with the Scarlet Knights that Schiano might be under consideration for various NFL jobs, but nothing happened until Tampa Bay came calling.
"Just the timing and it felt right. I don't know if there was anything in particular, I just went through the process like I had done before, and every other time it didn't feel right towards the end. This kept feeling more and more right. That's why I did it," Schiano said.
Schaino, a little bit like the veteran coach he will be standing across the sidelines from on Sunday, has a reputation as a demanding taskmaster. He understands, though, that there are differences between dealing with college athletes and professional ones.
"There's certain things that we believe in that aren't going to change. The core values of who we are, whether they're behavioral or football, but then there are other things that my players would say, 'I can't believe you let them do that, coach.' My players at Rutgers. But they're men, they're grown men, so you treat them a little differently in certain aspects," Schiano said.
Giants coach Tom Coughlin recognizes that Schiano is making an impact with the Buccaneers.
"They were a team that, what, lost 10 straight games a year before. The program is obviously being accepted," Coughlin said. "They made a lot of changes; they changed better than half the offensive players on their team, period. That was an exciting win for them at home, provided everyone there with some confidence, and obviously they're doing things there the way they want to do them."
As Barber said, whatever Schiano is doing it has been working thus far in Tampa Bay. Many around the NFL who did not follow him at Rutgers might be surprised by that. Those familiar with the Rutgers program, however, probably are not surprised at all.