The doubts about an iffy quarterback, you understood. And when a staph-infection breakout at the training facility forced an address change to One Hazmat Place, you said, OK, these things happen in the NFL, even when the Glazer boys are worth billions and really should have the place scrubbed down every night so nobody ever, um, dies from the MRSA bacterium.
But then came the official team photo shoot, which the aforementioned quarterback, Josh Freeman, missed because he supposedly slept in. And then came the unacceptable way the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost their first game, to the awful New York Jets, when the young and frisky Lavonte David drew a killer 15-yard penalty for shoving Geno Smith when the raw rookie already was out of bounds. Next you had reports of a players-only meeting that was called amid suspicions that the would-be coach of this operation, Greg Schiano, rigged the team-captaincy vote against Rip Van Freeman.
Then there was the league-leading flurry of penalties — 13 for 102 yards against the Jets, followed by 10 for 118 yards in a 16-14 home loss to New Orleans, in which head-hunting safety Dashon Goldson, who has been flagged for 15 personal fouls since 2010, nailed Darren Sproles with a helmet-to-helmet shot worthy of a one-game suspension from a brain-protecting league. “Dirty,” Sproles called the hit, though an appeals officer jointly appointed by the league and Players Association, former NFL offensive lineman Matt Birk, somehow decided the hit wasn’t so dirty and erased the suspension. Meanwhile, veteran kicker Lawrence Tynes, who apparently contracted MRSA at One Hazmat Place, was threatening to sue the team after Schiano insisted Tynes was “responding well” to treatment, prompting Tynes’ wife, Amanda, to lash out on her Twitter feed: “I hear my husband is responding `well,’ to treatment. LOL! He’s NOT responding at all yet. This is our #bucslife.” Another player who contracted MRSA, high-priced offensive guard Carl Nicks, hasn’t been in the same litigious mood, but he has missed the first two games with the infection.
Hell, even when the Bucs tried to do something fun and bring back their retro “creamsicle” jerseys for Sunday’s game at New England, along with the winking “Bucco Bruce” helmets from the Big Sombrero days, the league said nope. Why? Well, the Head, Neck and Spine Committee does have a good point: Given the strong emphasis on safety, players really should wear the same helmets they’ve broken in since training camp, establishing a comfort level with their all-important head protection. Using a new helmet in Week 3 could lead to bad fits and complications, particularly when, you know, the Bad News Bucs are involved.
Anything else? Oh, yeah. There were reports that Darrelle Revis — who liked the concept of playing in Tampa so he could escape New York, not revisit the madness — was disgusted by it all and, as the man-to-man lockdown cover
force of Revis Island, wasn’t happy that Schiano was employing zone schemes in the secondary. I am pleased to report, if for no other reason than to disrupt the absurdly relentless stream of negativity, that Revis said there was “zero truth” to the stories. And that he marched up to Schiano’s office to make sure the coach knew it.
“I just wanted to make sure we were on the same page,” Revis told the media. “Those things in the paper do get out, rumors here and there. I just wanted to make sure. I wanted to talk to him personally to say, `Hey, just to let you know, I don’t know if you know or if you believe it or not,’ just to make sure he saw me. It’s a tough time for this team. We’re 0-2 and we don’t want any distractions, so we want to focus and prepare for the team at hand each week.”
Well, how about that — a hint of leadership. I am not entirely certain this franchise has a head coach, a general manager or an owner, but if nothing else, the Bucs do have one star player willing to disengage himself from a muddled locker room and recommit himself to unity with the embattled Schiano. “That was very brief and very nice of him to come up,” Schiano told the media. “It wasn’t necessary. There was a lot of stuff floating around, I guess, and he said, `Coach, I wanted to set it straight.’ Great. Good to see him but not really necessary. I told him, `I love coaching you.’ He said, `I love playing here.’ Let’s go. It was good that he came up. It wasn’t requested. It was on him.”
Whether that love-in will lead to any measure of equilibrium on this wobbling pirate ship is your guess or mine. All I know is, I’ve never seen a month quite like it — so many detrimental stories from all sides attacking a normally efficient organization. “I thought those New York days were over,” said Revis, smiling, knowing the New York, Philadelphia and Boston media would be salivating. And while Revis again stressed the significance of this team staying together when so much is wrong and uttered these vital words — “I think the best thing through these situations is to be honest, and for us as a team to stick together. A win will change everything. A win will change this whole atmosphere.” — the reality of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can’t be changed.
One, they don’t have a quarterback.
Two, their coach has lost seven of his last eight games and, no matter what Revis says, is a couple of more bad losses from losing his team — and, ultimately, his job. If Schiano is an avowed disciplinarian, why so many penalties, many of the idiot variety? If he’s an authoritarian, why so much disarray?
If you’re wondering why Greg Schiano has one of the 32 most-prized coaching jobs in America’s most popular sport, blame Bill Belichick, who happens to be his opponent Sunday. They became friendly when Schiano was the head coach at Rutgers and one of his players was Belichick’s son, Stephen, a walk-on. It isn’t the norm for the private man known as The Hoodie to take on a coaching protegee, much less befriend him. But he grew close with Schiano, and when the Glazers needed a coach to replace the overmatched Raheem Morris, Belichick weighed in with his suggestion. The owners took his advice and hired him.
“I think he’s an outstanding coach. I think he does a great job,” Belichick told the media this week, ignoring the swirl of controversy in Florida. “He understands the game, prepares his team well. He’s very thoughtful and creative and is always looking for a better way to do things, always looking to improve, and looking to find a better way to coach or prepare or motivate, or whatever it is.”
A big problem with Schiano, I suspect, is that he’s known in the league as a college coach. He spent time in the NFL as an assistant, but a coach who jumps directly from Rutgers to the NFL hot seat is in for a rude awakening — the fraternity assumes he isn’t ready. Sure, he impressed some of us with his refusal to let Eli Manning take a knee at game’s end last year — who plays like a maniac for 59 minutes and 50 seconds, then curtseys? — and drew the ire of Giants coach Tom Coughlin for ordering his defense to try to force a fumble. But to have brass balls in your NFL head coaching infancy, you must win. And after starting 6-4 last year, Schiano’s record since then matches the Jacksonville Jaguars as the league’s worst.
When asked by the New England media this week about the reports of dissension, Schiano scoffed. “I think that the stuff that you’re referring to is all outside our building,” he said. “I’m not concerned with what is happening outside our building. The only thing that I concern myself with is our locker room and our coaches’ offices and meeting rooms, and they’re all good. So, we’re very frustrated about our start, our win-loss record, but as far as guys working together and believing in all those things, I feel very confident about our organization.”
Really? Things are good?
“Without a doubt,” he said.
He isn’t blind. He knows his team has lost two winnable games in excruciating fashion. An indictment of Schiano is one that has befallen many NFL head coaches: He hasn’t developed a quarterback. Last year, while Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck were becoming immediate stars, Freeman was taking a step back under a coach who clearly wasn’t smitten. At the moment, Rip Van has no confidence and shows little emotion or leadership, and if the organization has done one thing right lately, it was the decision not to sign Freeman to a long-term deal.
But rookie Mike Glennon, who is 6 feet 6 without NFL mobility, isn’t ready to start. And when you see the Cleveland Browns do Week 3 trade business with Indianapolis and unload their high first-round pick of last year, running back Trent Richardson, to position themselves to draft a quarterback, you wonder if the Bucs should be pondering similar manuevers. Freeman is not the man in Tampa. But unless they buy Jay Cutler in free agency, they’ll have to find their QB in April, where about six or seven other teams will be doing the same. Teddy Bridgewater, Brett Hundley and Marcus Mariota are the only first-round prospects at the moment, and wash out your mouth with baking soda if you mention Johnny Football.
As life pertains to Freeman, Schiano accepts the blame, at least publicly. “It isn’t just the quarterback. It’s squarely is on me,” he said. “I’m the head football coach, and when we’re not doing things offensively that we’re capable of doing — mostly in the passing game — we have to look at what we’re doing coaching-wise, what we’re doing execution-wise. And, again, it falls on me.”
The all-pervasive issue appears to be trust, or lack thereof. Greg Schiano doesn’t trust Josh Freeman, and vice versa. Some players don’t trust Greg Schiano, and, perhaps, vice versa. The MRSA mess creates distrust about management.
And when they try to soothe wounds with good old Bucco Bruce, even that plan can’t be trusted.