The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a messy situation on-hand, one that makes Sunday’s stunning one-point loss to the New York Jets and even Lawrence Tynes’ feud with the organization over his MRSA infection seem minuscule.
Here are the plotlines:
Totalitarian head coach vs. disenfranchised quarterback
Disgruntled team vs. totalitarian head coach
Disenfranchised quarterback vs. himself (???)
Of course the characters will deny these plotlines even exist.
“I do trust Josh. Josh and I share a lot of things together,” said head coach Greg Schiano.
“I’ve got 100% confidence. That’s a big thing with coach: trust and accountability. Of course, I trust Coach,” said quarterback Josh Freeman.
According to players, the players-only meeting was a pep rally. A pep rally.
And Schiano said he was fine with it, calling it ‘healthy.’
…And they all lived happily ever after.
If you read the script, you might believe what they’re saying.
But tune out the noise, and watch the body language. Because if you hit the ‘mute’ button long enough, you’ll start to see the big picture, and it’s not a pretty one.
On Wednesday, a report surfaced on Pro Football Talk claiming there was a players-only meeting in which the question was raised, “Did Greg Schiano tamper with the results of the vote to keep quarterback Josh Freeman from being a captain?”
Freeman, 25, dubbed the “franchise quarterback” when he was drafted by the Bucs in the first round in 2009, had been a captain of the Buccaneers since 2010. Why all of a sudden was this not his team? When asked about it, Schiano denied rigging the votes and said his job was merely to tally them.
The answer wasn’t very compelling and did little to shut down the notion that players are fed up with a no-nonsense coach, whose power-tripping style worked in the college but may not be suited for grown men.
It’s not even midway through Week 2 and we’ve got total anarchy in Tampa Bay! Schiano must go!
By Wednesday evening, the tune had changed and the focus shifted (rather conveniently, might I add) away from Schiano. A bombshell was dropped and it swept over One Buc faster than Mark Dominik’s cleaning crew could “nuke” the facility of MRSA. The story: Josh Freeman missed the team photo last week because he overslept, a source has confirmed with ___________ (insert name of news outlet here).
Josh Freeman missed the team photo?! How could he be so irresponsible? He also missed the first day of his kids camp due to car trouble. Was it really car trouble? Doesn’t he drive a Lamborghini? Or is it a Ferrari? Doesn’t he have friends who could have picked him up? Why didn’t he call?
The team meeting story was first reported by Pro Football Talk. No one else. Freeman missing a team photo was reported and confirmed by an unnamed source in two newspapers and two major websites that exclusively cover the team, almost simultaneously.
Well that’s interesting.
One can draw their own conclusions about who told them that in an attempt to steer attention away from the players’ dissatisfaction with a coach who has demanded total control of the organization, but has yet to show a winning record for it.
That’s what teams sometimes do if there’s even the slightest hint of anarchy — diffuse the situation and divert attention elsewhere.
It doesn’t excuse Josh Freeman’s absence from a team photo and it raises concerns about his own state of being. He appears aloof and detached. He’s fidgety when he speaks and erratic on the field. He’s overthrowing guys he shouldn’t, and Vincent Jackson’s working in slow-mo trying to adjust.
This is the final year of his contract. And this is not how it’s supposed to look. Not for a player who exhibited so much promise early on in his career with all of those fourth-quarter comebacks.
He finally has a defense that was built to keep pace with what he and the offense did last year. Where are you Josh? This is your encore!
Did he do just enough to put his team in position to win Sunday? Yes. But it was patchwork and was close to completely unraveling. The haphazard stitching says such.
But Freeman and whatever’s going on with him is merely a subplot to all of this.
It’s too easy to make him the scapegoat here, because he has no choice but to stand at the podium and shoulder responsibility for a missing a team photo.
But the problem seems much bigger.
The players will tell you, they’ve bought in. They nod their heads and say, “It’s awesome. It’s fun playing for Coach,” and even recite little sayings on bracelets, talking about F.A.M.I.L.Y (Forget About Me, I Love You), and how he’s brought in a renewed sense of trust, and camaraderie, and brotherhood.
Do you believe it?
Does a football team functioning in perfect harmony look that ill-prepared to open the season? What do you mean they weren’t prepared for the noise?
How does a head coach constantly preaching discipline get so little out of his players? Where is the fire?
It’s okay if you don’t have an answer. But we’ve all got questions and only a small bit of clarity.
So step back.
At this point, the music stops and we pause for an intermission.
The Saints come to town, a divisional foe, and all attention shifts to Drew Brees and his cast of offensive weapons.
The guys say they’re 100-percent keyed-in on stopping him.
For now, you can listen. And if they pull off an upset and manage to beat the Saints, there’s reason to celebrate on Sunday. And maybe the ‘players-only meeting’ and the ‘organization is in disarray’ thing blows over for a little while.
But know that what they’re telling you, and what’s going on when the curtains are closed — they don’t match up.
And this won’t be the last that we hear (or see) of it.