Martin Fennelly Columns
Bucs' Schiano clearly the devil in the details
TAMPA - About that ceremonial pitch he threw hilariously high and wide, into orbit really, at a recent Rays game … Greg Schiano, the man himself, in the flesh, not his shadow, is laughing. "I made a mistake," Schiano said. "I've thrown first pitches before. I usually go up to the rubber. I didn't go up to the rubber. "I did one at Yankee Stadium. Mets-Yankees, Subway Series. Packed. Roger Clemens was pitching. It was in 2007, regular season. He flips me the ball and says, 'Don't screw it up, big guy.' "…Threw it right to (Jorge) Posada – whoosh."The Buccaneers head coach is sitting in the media library at team headquarters. Strange, as Schiano's laser-focus hasn't always made him a man about media these first few months, which is fine – he has a job to do, though it's a bit odd for a franchise that needs to re-sell itself to its community. Thing is, I think I like Greg Schiano. I don't know him, but there's something rock solid I could like. Hey, if he wins, he could come out only every six months and he'd still be king of Tampa. On the other hand, he could be a meet and greeter, a regular dancing bear, and it wouldn't mean a thing if he lost. That's the simple NFL math: win or lose. That's why you can't blame any coach for doing it his own way. Only he'd better win. Translation: Don't screw it up, big guy. By now Schiano's players know him, enough to know that Tanard Jackson and Kellen Winslow aren't here anymore, to know they need to bring their game and an open mind – oh and a sweater, if they think of it. Schiano is smiling, again. Ah, the thermostat story … already Schiano lore … dialed down on orders of the new coach, keeping it cool at Bucs headquarters, just like at Rutgers. Mr. Freeze? "Just to keep people awake," Schiano said. "It's about controlling the things you can control. There are so many things that can go crazy on you, go haywire, that you have no say, no control, but the things that you can, I think it's worth it, because you can make things consistent … " I remember once sitting in Jon Gruden's office at 4 in the morning, five months before the Bucs won the Super Bowl, watching him painstakingly draw play cards for that day's practice, something a hundred other people could have done for him, but Gruden wanted things just right. There's nothing wrong with details mattering. "I think that's one of the things that's in your advantage is when you have experience," Schiano said. "I didn't always have all these things. Kids fell asleep. We figured out how we could do a better job of keeping them awake in meetings. Guys cramped up. Why, at Rutgers, could you never go to a meeting without your water bottle?" "There will be more. There will be new ones. I did have fun with it. Everyone has asked about it. I don't think it's bad, I think it's good stuff. I'm being called everything from obsessive to compulsive, but to me that's kind of what I think. There's a saying, take care of the little things and big things take care of themselves." Character – it's a big thing. "Character is one way to put it, or people who care," Schiano said. "People who really, really care are usually high character people. And when they really care, when you put so much of yourself into something, you won't let it fail, and I believe in that." Culture – it's a big thing. "Now is the time to establish how we do things," he said. "Then, as the trust builds, we'll know what to expect from each other, and there's consistency in behavior, than you can start to say this needs to be treated this way, and this is an exception, and certainly that'll happen." Trust – it's the biggest thing. "That to me is the hardest thing as a head coach and a staff to try to build with our players," he said. "You may not like what we say but you're going to get the truth. No shenanigans. We're not going to say something, then do something else. "Do they trust me yet? Not yet, not completely. I think, step by step, it's like putting money in a bank account, it grows. The balance grows." The Bucs head coach says he gets it, the whole publicity thing, the media thing, the ticket-selling thing. We might get to know him, or might not, but if we do it will take a long time – and it will take trust. Translation: You might never see a Greg Schiano Bucs team on HBO's "Hard Knocks." "As far as the private part, I think the relationship between player and coach, it either grows or it gets ripped apart," Schiano said. "If you have a relationship and all of a sudden the most intimate parts of that relationship become public, that makes it very hard for that relationship to grow. That's why I'm very protective of relationships within the building. "I understand, more than probably most coaches, that we're entertainment. That's what we are. I get that. Yet, as coach, that's not where my focus is. My focus is to provide a vision, teach them the fundamentals and make sure we play with great effort. But at the end of the day, that's not what the fans see, they see the entertainment part. That's why I think if a player wants to be open about human interest stories, I think they're great. That is what fans hook onto." Hey, they hook onto coaches' stories, too. "I'm not afraid for them to know me," he said. "But when it comes to the relationships, there's too much at stake there, my relationship with a player, my relationship with my team, or my relationship with my family. …People always want to do stuff on your family. My 15-year-old is not ready for media attention. People say, 'We never see your kids.' That's on purpose. "But as far as me, who am I and how I do things, I have no problem sharing that, sharing it honestly." A simpler question: What are Buccaneer Men, anyway? "Guys who can be trusted," Greg Schiano said. He thinks he has a bunch of those. He needs them, too. "The first go-round, it's new coaches, getting them on the same page, new players, administration, everybody learning how we do things," he said. "That's a lot of new, new, new, new. Yet when we go line up on the ninth of September, nobody cares if you're new or not." It's the cold reality of the NFL. Speaking of cold, you know, temperature and all … Greg Schiano shook his head. Then he smiled. "67.5, if you must know." .5 ? That's it: I think I like him.