|Michael Dwyer/Associated Press|
|Wherever he goes, Greg Schiano carries the lessons he's accumulated through a life in football.|
TAMPA, Fla. -- Greg Schiano is running late. It's a Monday morning during training camp, 7:15 a.m. The second-year head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has already been at work for two hours, mind you; he's just a bit off his brutally busy schedule, having paid a pre-dawn visit to the equipment team to lay out the day's practice plans.
His corner office has a heady feel to it: plush carpeting, a bank of big-screen televisions on one wall, the picturesque vista of the Buccaneers' training facilities seen through floor-to-ceiling windows. On a credenza, a framed picture of legendary basketball coach John Wooden's "Pyramid of Success," a paradigm of coaching philosophy. Next to the door, a framed memento of Vince Lombardi, "What it Takes to be Number One." For Schiano -- as for so many coaches -- Lombardi was the ultimate architect of winning through toughness and teamwork. Poignantly, Lombardi's coaching career started at a Bergen County high school in New Jersey, just 17 miles from where Schiano's journey began.
When he sits down behind his cluttered desk, Schiano is surrounded by stacks of motivational books, piles of index cards and reams of papers piled to precarious heights. Somewhere under it all, beneath protective glass, are pictures of his smiling, close-knit family.
"You gotta make it home," the New Jersey native says, "wherever you are."
"Home" these days for Gregory Edward Schiano is Tampa, Fla. But he's brought along so much of what he grew up with that it still feels more like the Jersey Shore than the Florida coast. Everything Schiano knows and holds dear -- family, faith, football -- he learned growing up in the Garden State. So he keeps it close. He's still New Jersey, through and through.
To hear the 47-year-old coach recount some of his glory days evokes another well-known storyteller from the same region -- perhaps the most well-known man to have an address somewhere off the Jersey Turnpike.
"That's all you listened to, growing up at that time," Schiano says of the soundtrack to his formative years. "It was Bruce."
Bucs strength coach Jay Butler -- who grew up in New Jersey, coached under Schiano at Rutgers and is a fellow Bruce Springsteen fanatic -- sees the connection between his boss and The Boss.
"He's always telling a story; you can always identify with something about it," Butler says about Springsteen. "And a lot of his songs are about hardship, or someone's against you, or you're overcoming something, so that's the mentality."
Springsteen is the unofficial poet laureate of the state. And the lyrics of so many of his songs tell the narrative of countless "tramps" from Jersey. Even an NFL football coach. Especially Greg Schiano ...
"I was raised out of steel here in the swamps of Jersey, some misty years ago ..."
-- Wrecking Ball
To be fair, Wyckoff, N.J., is not the swamplands. It's a fairly typical, bucolic suburb in the sprawling shadows of New York.
|Greg Schiano has been known as a fiery competitor for most of his life. (Damian Strohmeyer/Associated Press)|
"Bergen County's a beautiful place to grow up, and it's not like you're looking for your next meal, but my parents (Barry and Renee) worked very hard to provide for us," Schiano recalls, "and I think that example was something that my brothers and sisters all saw, and it served us well."
Barry Schiano worked at a textile plant in Paterson, once known as Silk City. But when jobs starting getting shipped overseas, "things went downhill. My dad worked his ass off. I learned a lot back then about being a competitor."
Mike Miello, Schiano's football coach at Ramapo High School in Franklin Lakes and something of a local legend in North Jersey, first recognized Greg's firebrand spirit when the young man was in sixth grade. Of all the kids he scouted and assisted through the area's youth football programs, one clearly stood out.
"Even as a kid, (Greg's) passion and his aggression on the field was so far ahead of the other kids; and then when he played for me in high school, he was a true student of the game," Miello remembers. "When you stand in front of a locker room full of kids, and you have a kid who's just focused on every word you say, that's something special. And that was him. He had this burning desire."
"We made a promise, we swore we'd always remember. No retreat, baby, no surrender."
-- No Surrender
The competitor in Greg Schiano has always been on clear display to everyone he's come in contact with.
After playing his college ball at Bucknell, Schiano spent a year back at his high school alma mater as an apprentice at his mentor's knee before moving up to the collegiate ranks, first for a year at Rutgers and then to soak up the knowledge of a coaching legend at Penn State.
Schiano credits his didactic, demanding ways to Joe Paterno. He has a framed Penn State tie hanging on the wall of his office at One Buc Place, a gift from Joe's wife, Sue, following Paterno's passing.
"We had to wear a tie to work every day," Schiano says, more than a hint of emotion in his voice. "We were teachers, so he wanted us to dress like that."
Schiano got his first taste of pro ball at age 30, in 1996, after being recommended to Dave Wannstedt, then head coach of the Chicago Bears. In Wannstedt -- who is now special teams coordinator for the Bucs -- Schiano found a kindred soul. Wannstedt still sees in Schiano what he saw all those years ago.
"He's got such a strong, hard-nosed work ethic," Wannstedt says. "And a lot of that comes from where he's from."
Butch Davis hired Schiano as an up-and-coming defensive coordinator at the University of Miami in 1999. Davis now serves as a special assistant on the Bucs staff, carrying the torch of his friend's competitive fire.
"He's extremely intense and very focused," Davis says. "He's got passion that you associate with (being from New Jersey). He's got that little chip on his shoulder, and that carries over to his teams."
In 2001, Schiano landed what for anyone else would have been an albatross of a job title: Head Football Coach, Rutgers University. But Schiano wasn't daunted; he was back in his home state's embrace.
His former Scarlet Knights players -- many of whom are now NFL mainstays -- speak of the same person that Mike Miello met decades earlier.
Brian Leonard (current Bucs RB): "Coach Schiano grew up in Jersey; you're gonna be a hard-nosed guy, be a tough guy, be a guy who takes no crap. That's him, that's how he does it, and that's what he preaches to us. He has so much respect for Jersey. He basically changed the attitude about Rutgers football in the entire state. Coach Schiano had everything to do with that."
|Players say Schiano brings a blue-collar attitude to his work. (Damian Strohmeyer/Associated Press)|
Tiquan Underwood (Bucs WR in 2012): "Blue-collar, hard-nosed football. That's what he made at Rutgers; just guys who go out and do their job. His base is still the same. He believes in trust, he believes in the team. He's loosened up a little since college, but his base principles are still the same."
Jason McCourty (Titans DB): "We used to have those 5:30 in the morning workouts; you could see that type of intensity every day. That's one thing we appreciated about him as players: He just brought the same attitude, day in and day out."
Schiano spent 11 years burning down the road, transforming a once-moribund Rutgers program into a proven winner, something New Jersey could be proud of. He'd move his family only for a big-time job that "felt right."
Then, in the winter of 2012, came a call about one that did. So the coach took a leap of faith.
Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik hired Schiano in large part because "coach is real old school. He brings a toughness and demeanor with him, and it's genuine."
"Wherever this flag's flown ... we take care of our own."
-- We Take Care of Our Own
"He doesn't forget the little things," Dominik says, "so he knows how much (Butch) Davis meant to his career, how much (Dave) Wannstedt meant to his career, and he respects the guys that really work hard at it; they have a passion for it. ... These are the guys he knew that loved it and lived it. He's a loyal guy, and that's a Jersey thing, too."
Like blood brothers. Loyalty is a word you hear repeated by anyone who knows Schiano. You need not look further than the roster he's assembled in his brief tenure with Tampa Bay. Ten of the coaches on his staff have family and coaching ties to Jersey, while the Bucs' roster boasts seven players from New Jersey and/or Rutgers, a number matched only by the Cincinnati Bengals.
Schiano relishes these ties that bind, so much so that, years ago, he ordered up bracelets emblazoned with the acronym "F.A.M.I.L.Y." His players wore them at Rutgers, as they do now in Tampa. He explains what the acronym means: "Forget About Me, I Love You."
"Guys think it's a little corny, but it means a lot to us. ... When you hear it said like that, 'love,' it's soft, but it's more of the sacrifice, that's what love is. Doing things you don't wanna do because you care about people, you care about an organization, you care about others. And it's that humble attitude we're trying to build into our team."
He forged that feeling in Piscataway, where Schiano brought both Miello and Joe Susan, his coach at Bucknell, into the fold as part of his Rutgers staff.
"New Jersey's different in that it's a blue-collar, hard-working, family-value state," Miello says. "We know what it is to be multicultural, and it forces us to learn how to get along with people better, and it was very rewarding for guys like Greg. That's the real foundation: Greg's family values and his work ethic. Loyalty is one of the cornerstones of him as a person, and he's taken that into his profession."
Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who played for Schiano at Rutgers, echoes that sentiment: "We came from all different places, we came together from all different races. And he put together a strong-knit football team. It was always about family. (Schiano) was our guy. It all started with him." Rice continues, "Loyalty is hard to come by these days. You can truly see he cares about you."
Now Schiano has brought that ethos with him to the NFL. At Rutgers, Rice shared the backfield with Leonard, a seventh-year pro who spent his first six seasons with the St. Louis Rams and Bengals before reuniting with his head coach in Tampa this season.
"This team," Leonard says of the Bucs, "feels more like a family than any team I've ever been on in the NFL."
Why is that?
"These are guys that have the same core values that I do," says the coach. "Trust is the No. 1 thing; we gotta be able to trust each other and know you're gonna get told the truth all the time. ... Players respect you for that, and that's the key. They're gonna know that they're being dealt with straight-up, no B.S."
"T.B.A. Trust. Believe. Accountability," remembers Rice. "I'll never forget that, because not only was he giving you valuable lessons for the football field, he was giving you valuable lessons for life. We can thank Coach Schiano for pushing us to be the men that we are."
This allegiance within his football team, and his family, forms the bedrock of who Schiano is. He traces it back to his childhood days in Wyckoff.
"The people that raised me, my parents and the coaches that I had, that was everything. That meant more than all the other stuff that was going on, and sometimes more than winning and losing. I had great examples from my parents, and you only hope you can do half as good a job as they did."
"Two faces have I ..."
-- Two Faces
John and Matt Schiano are playing hooky after an August training camp session at One Buc Place. The players have long since left the field, but the 14-year-old twins belonging to Greg and his wife, Christy, are getting in some football drills of their own on the sun-soaked, emerald green turf. The boys, along with older brother Joey (the Schianos also have a daughter, Katie, their youngest), are fixtures at the Buccaneers' facilities when school's out. This is Greg's way of emulating what his dad did for him back in Jersey.
"I can remember him rushing (from work) ... town baseball games started at six o'clock, and he would be rushing from the plant to get to the game, and he'd coach the game. He coached me in every sport."
The life of an NFL head coach doesn't allow for much of that type of paternal interaction. But Schiano is different sides of the same coin. "He just loves his kids so much," Wannstedt remarks. "There's no question where he is when he's not coaching football. He's with his kids."
|Schiano brings a storyteller's approach to his job. (Lynne Sladky/Associated Press)|
"There's two Greg Schianos," says Miello, who's known Schiano for 35 years and maintains a strong friendship with him to this day. "The one on the field is strictly business, and then there's Greg Schiano off the field, who's a family man, who's the best friend you could ever have. If you're one of his friends, he'll do anything for you."
Schiano begrudgingly agrees: "I'd like to, at times, be a little more like I am at home; my kids think I'm silly and I'm a geek. But when you have a position as head coach, you're on display all the time, and your guys need to see you being that leader."
Now that he's in Year 2 in Tampa -- now that the process of instilling the culture change he deemed necessary is underway -- he's found it easier to let his guard down just a bit while at work. The players who've logged the most time with him recognize a misperception about their coach, because outsiders only see Schiano between the lines.
"He's basically a player's coach," Leonard says. "Out on the field, he's not messing around; it's all focus, all business. But after practice, he has an open-door policy. He's a guy you can go to if you have any problems."
The two Greg Schianos are inexorably intertwined, of course. But what the 18-hour-a-day, workaholic Head Coach lacks in quantity when it comes to time spent away from the game, the devoted Family Man makes up for in the quality department, most recently with an uncharacteristic investment.
Greg Schiano bought a boat.
"I've never really had a hobby. That's one thing people bust on me about, 'It's always work, work, work, and then go with your wife and kids,' " Schiano explains. "I didn't know if I would, but I like the boat. It's great for the kids; it's great family time, away from everything. We try to keep the cell phones outta there. It's been a good thing for me to get away a little bit."
Then Schiano's face widens into a gap-toothed grin. "Not too much, though ..."
"Rain pourin' down, I swing my hammer ... My hands are rough from workin' on a dream ..."
-- Working on a Dream
As Bruce Springsteen conjures images with his lyrics, so too does Greg Schiano know how to turn a phrase for effect. He calls them motivational "word pictures," and he can teach a master class on the topic. One "word picture" in particular, one that has stood the test of time, embodies his principles: CHOP.
As Schiano explains the origins of the word picture, one can practically see Springsteen at the mic, enthralling the crowd with another gem of a tall tale. "It's about a guy in the woods," Schiano begins, his voice low. "And he just has an ax, and that's it ... Real thick woods ... He's gonna either freeze or starve to death, or he's gonna chop his way out of it. It's really about dealing with the moment, staying focused. Get the noise out of it."
"It's an attitude. He won't let anything be taken away from him," says Devin McCourty, a former Schiano pupil at Rutgers who is now a defensive back with the New England Patriots. "He feels he can will anything to happen. There's no situation you can put him in where he's gonna feel defeated. He'll look at a situation and he'll find a way to make it go in his favor. He has that mentality, that he's the only one who decides how far he goes. (He's) unstoppable."
The Rutgers alumni who dot the Bucs roster, like Leonard, keep chopping, too.
"We know what to expect at this level, and Schiano prepared us," Leonard says. "No one's fooled, coming (to the NFL) from Rutgers. We know we're going to work hard. We're hard workers and we're going to do everything the way he wants it done."
The concepts Schiano has always preached have been sinking in with all the Buccaneers. "I think it's awesome," says Josh Freeman, the Bucs' fifth-year quarterback -- and a player Schiano sees as a leader. "Coach Schiano comes in and it's straight up, up front. He expects the best out of everybody, expects you to work, know what you're supposed to do. Essentially, it comes down to doing your job. Point blank."
Greg Schiano is restless. The blazing Florida sun is on the rise as training camp continues, and his busting-at-the-seams schedule beckons. In his office, there is one more interesting item of note, tucked away next to his desk: a pair of sculpted geese, standing sentry.
Schiano relents to tell one last story: how he came to learn that geese are the ultimate "team" animal, always flying in perfect V-formation, never leaving an injured goose behind, sharing the responsibility of leading the skein. It was a "word picture" from over a decade ago, intended to inspire a downtrodden Rutgers team. "Every game we win, we're gonna buy another goose," he barks with his trademark intensity, his voice rising. "And we're gonna carry 'em wherever we go!"
Then, a short pause for dramatic effect. "We were 1-11 that year," he says, smiling, "so those geese go everywhere with me. Keeps me humble."
As it turned out, Schiano's Bucs would go on to be humbled in Week 1, via a gut-wrenching loss to the Jets in his return to the swamps of Jersey. Home again. And gone. Without a victory to show for it.
But it's still summertime in September. Once the page turns to autumn, you can be sure change is on the way, like the leaves changing color. Like a football team shifting its wayward direction.
And if you look up to the sky on a fall day, you just might see a gaggle of geese, in perfect V-formation, migrating south.
Follow Rich Hollenberg on Twitter @RichOnSports.