Schiano's first toe in real NFL waters feels just fine
Gary Shelton, The St.Petersburg Times, published 10 September 2012|
There is something likable about the new guy. Something charming. Something charismatic.
Maybe it is the stone jaw, and maybe it is the iron fist, and maybe it is the fierce stare. Maybe it is his attention to detail, or the way the fire burns inside of him, or the no-nonsense approach to a team that has had far too much nonsense of late.
And maybe, just maybe, it was the winning scoreboard that hovered over his right shoulder as he walked toward the middle of Raymond James Stadium on Sunday evening.
All in all, yeah, that Greg Schiano makes a fine first impression, doesn't he?
This is how Schiano imagined it, you know? The rest of us talked about last year and missed tackles and mental cave-ins and loss after loss. Schiano? He talked about running the ball and controlling the clock and playing tough and playing hard and playing smart.
You know. Like this. The Schiano Era opened perfectly Sunday. The Bucs were aggressive on defense and efficient on offense, and for the most part, they played the way their coach drew it up.
By the end of the day, the Bucs won a 16-10 upset over the Carolina Panthers, and because of it, there was more reason than ever to believe that perhaps, just perhaps, they made a smart hire in Schiano after all.
The Bucs ran the ball. They didn't throw an interception. They didn't commit a fumble. They kept the ball for almost a quarter more than they allowed the Panthers to keep it. They didn't blow assignments. And in those moments when it seemed as if Carolina might take over the game, in those moments in which they collapsed so often a year ago, the Bucs managed to make a play.
In other words, yeah, Schiano did a pretty good job of saying hello. After this offseason, let's face it, you knew Schiano was old-school. You knew he was demanding, and you knew he was serious.
What you did not know was that he planned to kick down the door to the NFL. What you did not know was whether his meticulous search for clues to a game would pay off so soon. What you did not know was whether he would grab the attention of Bucs fans from the start.
Now you know. After this, how can you not be more impressed with Schiano than ever? "He preached a lot of things about how this team was going to shape out," safety Ronde Barber said. "You have to take your hat off to him because everything he said that was going to happen happened today. I anticipate we're going to play like this in every game."
In the end, an opening day win isn't going to determine whether Schiano is a success. It took Jon Gruden two tries to win his first game, and it took Tony Dungy six tries, and it took John McKay 27. On the other hand, Ray Perkins won his first, and Richard Williamson, and Sam Wyche.
Remember, however, that this is a franchise that finished last season horribly. Perhaps his players needed a bit of success to validate their belief in Schiano. If they didn't, Tampa Bay certainly did.
Sunday, the fans not only saw a team win, they saw a team that might win again soon. The plan seems solid enough: run the ball, cut out the turnovers, make the big play against the opposing offense. As formulas go, that sounds okay.
"The guy had a plan, and he made sure we stuck to it regardless of how we felt and regardless of what we wanted to do," defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. "The coach never let us slip. I remember in practice, someone's foot wasn't on the line one day, and he made us start practice again. And we hated it.
"But we go out there today, and you see how it pays off. He told us that the sooner we buy in, the sooner we would win. We didn't just buy in. We dove in."
What did we learn about Schiano? We learned the cut-it-out message to Josh Freeman was heard; Freeman didn't come close to throwing an interception. We learned he likes the ball in Doug Martin's hands; Martin ran it 24 times and caught four others. We learned his team can withstand a force such as Cam Newton.
Also, we learned this: Schiano is a pretty good poker player. "They held back a lot of stuff (in the preseason)," Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. "They didn't show a lot of the stuff they did (Sunday). It's one of those things where you prepare for the great unknown and all of a sudden they show some different things you didn't have a chance to prepare for."
Oh, the day wasn't all perfect. Schiano won't like what he sees from a goal-to-go situation in the second quarter, when the Bucs had a chance to build a 17-0 lead if they had gotten into the end zone. He may wonder if they were a little too conservative in the third quarter (on five first downs, they ran it every time).
Still, he'll like the effort. He'll like the way the Bucs responded to big plays. He'll like being 1-0. Chances are, the rest of us will like it, too.
On the field, Schiano keeps his emotions in check. He makes little notes to himself as the game goes along. Even after winning, he didn't smile until his second handshake, the one from Barber.
"I told him congratulations on his first win," Barber said. "And I thanked him for stopping that other streak, the one where we had lost 10 straight games."
As time goes on, Tampa Bay will get to know Schiano better, and vice versa. It is safe to say if he keeps winning, he is going to be very, very popular.