In a season filled with negativity, controversy and underachievement, Tampa Bay Buccaneers management and fans alike can sit down at the Thanksgiving table and be thankful they don't have to shop for a new head coach or quarterback this offseason.
Allow me to explain.
Oh, Schiano has been fired about 429 different times already this year. The media fired him, with many declaring he wouldn't last the season because he had lost the team and the players loathed him. There were billboards around town calling for his head. And sure, there was a prolonged period of time when the Bucs were winless (through their first eight games!) and hopeless -- seemingly a rudderless ship.
But regardless of the popular public sentiment, this team never stopped playing for Schiano.
The season has been lost, but hope for Schiano leading the Bucs next season shouldn't be. If anything, this will prove to be a season of development and a major learning experience.
The Bucs went on the road Sunday to play the NFC North-leading Detroit Lions. I thought it would be a close game, with Tampa Bay coming off two consecutive wins. It was even better. The Bucs beat the Lions 24-21, with Schiano's defense picking off Matthew Stafford four times in the process. The game featured six lead changes. Tampa Bay -- not Detroit -- looked like the playoff-bound team, showing grit and execution.
"One of the more gutsy performances I've seen," Schiano said to reporters after the game.
This game further underscores one of the most encouraging developments for the Bucs in 2013: They're in the process of developing their quarterback of the present and future. Glennon, a third-round pick in April's draft, once again showed poise and rocked steady. While the Lions played hot potato with the football, Glennon completed 14 of his 21 passes for 247 yards, two touchdowns and -- most importantly -- zero picks. Absolutely crucial, considering the Bobby Rainey-led ground game was completely ineffective, totaling 22 rushing yards on 24 attempts.
Tampa Bay now has defeated Miami, Atlanta and Detroit in three consecutive weeks. And in the game just before this winning streak, the Bucs largely outplayed the Seahawks -- in Seattle -- before losing in overtime.
Amazingly, the Bucs are doing this without star running back Doug Martin, who was lost for the season with a shoulder injury in Week 7, as well as his backup, Mike James, who filled in admirably before breaking his ankle in the Dolphins game. While 3-8 is an underachieving record, you can't say this team has packed it in.
Last week, I had a lengthy and candid conversation with Bucs general manager Mark Dominik on my SiriusXM Radio show, "Schein on Sports."
Dominik understandably called the first half of the season "long and frustrating," while rightly giving credit to the players and coaches for "persevering." As mentioned above, a lot has been said about the job Schiano has done this year. I asked Dominik for his honest assessment.
"Well, I know the work ethic and the determination are top notch," Dominik said. "I think every general manager would be proud with the way he works and prepares the way Coach Schiano does. I will tell you this: It has been a tough season. As we all know, the head coach and the quarterback get most of the blame -- and the majority of the glory when things go right. The one thing that we have here in Tampa Bay is a guy with tough skin in Coach Schiano. He stayed the course. He believed in his fundamentals, and the team has stayed with him. That is the most important thing you can say.
"Certainly, Coach has made some adjustments from Year 1 to Year 2. Every coach does that as they get more comfortable in the National Football League or in any situation. But I think our players are playing at a really high level for him. They believe in him and they know he is doing everything under his power for us to get out from under where we were and continue to stay in the win column."
I was curious about the adjustments Schiano has made, so Dominik explained: "Oh, I think it is a lot of little things. The one thing that I don't think people know from outside the organization is how much time he actually spends one-on-one with each one of our players and really has an open-door policy and really develops a relationship with them as a mentor and a head coach -- both. I think that is the thing that is hidden and that is why (perception) on the outside had us on the inside scratching our heads saying, 'That's not who he is.' I think our players, because they are around him, have a better feel for who he is and what he is about."
Pretty strong stuff. And you see the players backing up Dominik's words on the field.
What's crazy about this bizarre Bucs season is that I firmly believe it could've gone much differently with one simple move that I first-guessed, something for which Schiano doesn't receive enough credit for eventually getting right.
Josh Freeman can't play. He can't lead. The Bucs knew it. They just needed to eradicate him from their roster last offseason. They smartly took Glennon, who will go down as the steal of the draft, after they initially tried to trade for Carson Palmer because they had it right on Freeman. They just didn't seal the deal on it. And everything that followed -- the dramatic "he said, he said" and overall bad blood that left Tampa Bay with no choice but to cut Freeman -- doomed the season.
Dominik told me he has no regrets about not playing Glennon from Day 1.
"We went into the season with a plan in place, organizationally. And we stuck to the plan," Dominik said. "Sometimes, you know, it's even good for young quarterbacks to see it from a different perspective for a couple of weeks instead of just jumping out there for Week 1.
"(Glennon) is extremely professional, extremely intelligent worker at the game, and he takes pride in it. You are always happy when you pull in [to One Buc Place in the morning] and you look to your left and you see Mike Glennon's car already in the parking stall. So that is one reason why we are excited. A lot of guys know that position, that guy, has to be the hardest-working guy on your football team, and Mike Glennon is doing that."
Glennon has completed 62.5 percent of his throws, piling up 13 touchdown passes against four picks and posting a 91.6 passer rating. So, is he a franchise quarterback?
"I am very happy with what he is doing, I can tell you that," Dominik said. "I think the term 'franchise quarterback' gets thrown around loosely in the National Football League because it is so hard to evaluate and decide just what is a franchise quarterback and what is not a franchise quarterback and what makes a guy a franchise quarterback. Is it Super Bowl rings? Because I know some great, great quarterbacks who have played through the decades who would disagree with you.
"I tell you what: With a guy like Mike Glennon, I know he knows what to do and where to go with the football. I know our older veteran players respect him because of how hard he works at it, and it's just good to have him here."
I'm not here to crown the Bucs. They have underachieved. But the cupboard isn't bare. There are many promising pieces like Glennon -- on the defensive side of the ball, too. Lavonte David is a star linebacker. The secondary is talented. And next year, the Bucs won't have to deal with the Freeman nonsense that dragged them down in 2013.
It wouldn't hurt Schiano to play the game a little bit better. He doesn't have to micromanage everything. And he can take steps to help himself in the court of public opinion.
But now he has a quarterback whom he trusts. And I'd like to see this pair get a full offseason and 2014 campaign before we prematurely write Schiano's epitaph in Tampa.
Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.