|Kim Klement/US Presswire|
|The Buccaneers are hoping Greg Schiano can use his college experience to turn the franchise around.|
When he was the Rutgers coach, did hotel meeting rooms really need to be set at a precise temperature before road games, as Sports Illustrated's Peter King first reported?
Schiano doesn't deny it. He explains it.
"If you've ever been with a group of men in a meeting room, you know that if you put 70 guys in a room, the temperature goes up right away," Schiano said in a phone interview from his office at One Buc Place. "That might make it harder to focus, if you're worried about trying not to suffocate. Those are the details most people don't tend to. I don't know if I put more on that than anyone else, but I make sure we're thorough. You can bitch about stuff when it doesn't go right. Or you can get out in front of it."
You could consider the Bucs' 2011 season the stuffy hotel ballroom that no one addressed -- until the whole thing came unraveled. And Schiano is there now to make sure the temperature is always set correctly.
You could also consider the assuredness in his voice as a sign of confidence that the same principles he used to turn around a hopeless college program will revive a professional team that went careening off the rails last fall.
Is the challenge in Tampa different than it was in Piscataway? You bet. Is the plan? Not really. And that's because, to start, Schiano, who will turn 46 on Friday, doesn't really buy the idea that coaches coming from the college ranks are doomed to fail in the NFL.
"I'm not saying that I'm going to make it, even though I'm confident in our plan, but that's probably one of the most misleading ideas out there," Schiano said. "There are way more pro guys that don't make it -- six to nine jobs change every year, and most of them are filled by pro guys. It's just easier to point out the college guys who don't make it, but there are more NFL guys that fail. So I'm really not worried about the college-pro thing. Every coach has to be a head coach for the first time somewhere.
"I know it's a challenge. The biggest thing I have is confidence, having been a head coach for 11 years."
If Schiano's hire works, and Jim Harbaugh continues to be successful in San Francisco, NFL minds could change once again, like they did after Jimmy Johnson's prosperity in the early 1990s. Those in the league certainly have their lists of bright prospects. Oregon's Chip Kelly, for example, nearly took the Bucs job before Schiano got it.
This to-the-point Jersey guy knows, though, that plenty needs to change in Tampa. The Bucs finished 2011 on a 10-game losing streak, with each of the last five losses coming by at least 16 points, punctuated by embarrassing, listless efforts against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Dallas Cowboys before national audiences.
The firing of Raheem Morris set the franchise on course for a culture change, something Schiano has experience with at Rutgers. "We took over a team that was the worst in college football, with one in three kids flunking out, it was a complete cluster," Schiano said. The situation in Tampa, he said, "Isn't that bad," but a lot of the skills he honed at Rutgers, the Bucs think, will be applicable in the NFL.
General manager Mark Dominik points to Schiano's "structure, organization and detail" as traits that could carry over at any level of the game. The Tampa decision makers were also struck by how Schiano sustained success at Rutgers after rebuilding it. They were encouraged not just by how many Scarlet Knights made it to the NFL, but how many had an immediate impact -- a sign they were well-coached and prepared to be pros.
Now, there is the acknowledgement, from all corners here, that performing a facelift in the Big East is different from doing so in the NFL. Still, just four months in, the program-building acumen of the new coach hasn't been hard to spot.
"People can sit in interviews and say things, but he's doing things," Dominik said. "There's a culture change going on, and what's exciting is watching the players thrive within that. They have a thirst for what he's saying, for what he's teaching. You sit out here on an OTA day, and you can see it happen."
The GM said quarterback Josh Freeman is in the "best shape of his short career," that Ronde Barber has embraced a move to safety after 199 consecutive starts at cornerback, and that younger guys carrying the "troubled" tag, like Mike Williams and LeGarrette Blount, have fully bought in. Out of 90 players on the roster, Dominik added, the club has consistently had "85 or 86" in the building daily for the offseason program, with everyone else accounted for.
And Schiano, in turn, has already seen leaders emerge, with Freeman, Barber, newcomer Vincent Jackson and guard Davin Joseph at the front of the line, and the promise that a youthful defensive line could add to that group soon. The coach is adjusting, too, with the biggest difference from college being "the expanse of ages" -- in the NFL, 21-year-olds and 35-year-olds are asked to operate under the same umbrella.
"We're all men here with different roles -- mine is head coach, and theirs are as players," he said. "It's demanding, what we're asking, it's not easy, but it's the best thing. ... The buy-in has been great, they've been working incredibly hard. We gave them off this week, and we'll come back with OTAs and the minicamp. But so far, the guys have been excellent. It was a change for them, but we didn't just do it to do it. We explain to them the reasoning, and once they hear that, they get it. Hey, they want to win."
As Schiano explains, there's a reason for everything, even the quirky stuff, like room temperature on the road.
And in case you're wondering, yes, the Bucs knew about that story, and a few others, before hiring Schiano. A little unusual? Sure it was. But, like the players, once the Tampa brass heard the coach out, it wasn't hard to understand.
"That speaks to the level of detail, the organization and how precise he thinks the little things need to be to get it right," said Dominik, who laughed when he heard about Schiano's response to the temperature story. "I saw that story as a positive, as him trying to find any advantage he can to make the team better. Whether it's the room temperature or the story about him allegedly wanting a certain kind of pasta, it shows how important all of it is to Coach Schiano. In any and all aspects of the operation, he wants it to be the best it can be."
And the hope is that if everything goes right when it comes to pasta and meeting rooms, well, then the football will follow.
At the very least, winning will make it all look a lot less crazy.
Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer