TAMPA, Fla. — The biggest transition from the college game to the NFL, from Greg Schiano’s perspective, was the personnel angle involved with his new role.
In those early days, he leaned on Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik to make the various pieces fit in his mind: Details that go with shaping a 53-man roster, grasping rules like how to claim a player off a practice squad and, simply, becoming comfortable molding a team at the game’s highest level.
Schiano’s NFL education began as a defensive assistant with the Chicago Bears from 1996-98 under Dave Wannstedt, now the Bucs’ special teams coordinator, before leaving to become the University of Miami’s defensive coordinator and later Rutgers’ coach. But as an NFL assistant, Schiano knew there were many moving parts that fell outside his control.
“It’s all foreign unless you’ve studied it, and as an assistant coach, you don’t study it,” Schiano said. “So, even if you’ve had assistant coach experience in this league, it’s not your responsibility, so you’re really not that familiar with it. That was probably my biggest adjustment.”
Now in his second season with Tampa Bay, that adjustment is ongoing. He’s 7-13, a record that includes losses in nine of his last 10 games, dating back to Week 12 of last year.
Chip Kelly, also making a transition from the college game after leaving Oregon in January, will arrive with the Philadelphia Eagles to Raymond James Stadium on Sunday living some turbulence of his own. After beating the Washington Redskins in Week 1, the Eagles lost three consecutive games against AFC West opponents, before topping the New York Giants last Sunday.
“Obviously, the game’s different, the roster’s different, how much time you’re allowed to be with your players is different, what your daily structure is like is different,” Kelly said.
Their situations differ, but one aspect binds both: The search for offensive continuity. Schiano made a dramatic turn before Week 4 from former franchise quarterback Josh Freeman to Mike Glennon, a rookie taken in the third round. Meanwhile, success of Kelly’s high-octane offense, which led Oregon to four consecutive BCS berths, depends on elite quarterback play. It remains to be seen if Michael Vick is Philadelphia’s long-term answer.
“I think both of them know how to win, and both of them know how to coach,” said Charley Casserly, a former general manager with the Washington Redskins and Houston Texans. “I think, ultimately, their success is going to be predicated on the quarterback position at both spots.”
Whether either will achieve consistent success, however, remains a question.
The perception of Schiano’s performance so far with Tampa Bay depends on your point of view. To some, his high-discipline style, reminiscent of Bill Belichick at New England, was what the franchise needed after the lax environment at One Buc Place during the Raheem Morris era. (In April, two-time Pro Bowl guard Davin Joseph captured the transition this way: “It’s that change we went through, going from a country club to a place where we actually conduct football business.”)
Of course, there’s another perspective when considering Schiano. To some, he’s too rigid, too hardline at a level where some trust among professionals is required for a healthy work setting. A breakup with Freeman turned dramatic, even embarrassing, before the former first-round pick signed with the Minnesota Vikings for one year and $3 million late Sunday night.
The parting of ways with Freeman marked a beginning of sorts, with Schiano’s fingerprint now on the Bucs’ most important position. When at Rutgers, he recruited Glennon heavily before the player chose to attend N.C. State. The move is a defining one for Schiano and his plan.
“I believe that this gives us the best chance to win today,” he said in September.
It’s too early to tell if the transition to Glennon will quiet concerns about Schiano and his style. The rookie looked raw in his debut against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 4, completing 24 of 43 passes for 193 yards with two interceptions in the final three minutes of a loss.
This is a franchise desperately in need of a victory. Schiano speaks about “one-game seasons” as a way to show focus. He has surrounded himself with proven coaches such as Wannstedt, offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan and defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan as well.
Since training camp, however, the Bucs have produced a wave of negative news: MRSA cases involving guard Carl Nicks, kicker Lawrence Tynes and cornerback Johnthan Banks; the Freeman mess; fines to defensive players Dashon Goldson, Lavonte David and Ahmad Black (released Oct. 1) for ill-advised hits; and three losses by a combined six points.
Still, despite the ground seemingly shaking underneath him, Schiano has support among some in the locker room.
“I know everybody gets on him about being the hard-nosed, military background, but he’s also a caring guy,” Bucs running back Doug Martin said. “He cares about his players, and I’ve seen a lot of that this year, definitely. He’ll come up to you … just have a nice one-on-one talk and just try to get to know you.”
“I know what he was trying to do his first year as far as establishing himself and establishing a program,” Bucs linebacker Dekoda Watson said. “That’s why he was so hard coming in. You’ve got to make sure everybody gets what’s going on whether they like it or not. As far as him being the boss, that’s what it’s going to be. We’re going to do it this way. Once we got a hold of it this year, it’s a lot more lenient.”
Some of that increased leniency, Watson said, includes pulling back on former must-show activities like mandatory dinners. Schiano has many critics throughout the Tampa Bay region and beyond, partly because of his style, partly because of his results. There has been some give-and-take in Schiano’s second season, but his core approach with those who work for him remains the same.
“He had been in the league, he understood the league, how it works,” said Casserly, now an analyst with NFL Network. “Then he hired a number of assistant coaches, which is the biggest challenge for college coaches coming in. … I think it’s just getting that quarterback right and getting that solved is really what has held him back. And that will ultimately be what determines whether he wins games or not.”
It’s too early to know where Kelly’s NFL career will take him. By replacing Andy Reid, he went from a fascination desired by front offices — including the Bucs’ before they hired Schiano — to someone whose unique offensive philosophy is tested on Sundays.
So far, production is little problem. The Eagles rank first in rushing offense (186.6 yards per game), second in total offense (454.8 ypg) and eighth in points scored (27.0 per game). Defense has been the issue: They have allowed no fewer than 21 points each game, and they have surrendered at least 33 twice, including 52 in a loss to the Denver Broncos in Week 4.
But Kelly represents needed change. Reid lost his touch at the end, leading Philadelphia to a 12-20 record his final two seasons there, including a 4-12 campaign last year. The stretch marked the first time the Eagles went without a playoff berth in consecutive seasons since he was hired before the 1999 campaign.
“When Chip Kelly came in, I think everybody was in a mode where we just wanted to do whatever we could do to kind of erase the year we had and, in the full team, just be everybody in on one goal,” Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson said.
“Chip was like that missing piece, that new piece.”
That piece has given life to some veterans’ careers. LeSean McCoy has 514 yards rushing, only 326 less than he had in 12 games last season. Vick has passed for 1,185 yards and rushed for 307 — only 25 fewer on the ground than he had in 10 games last season. (Vick is listed as questionable for Sunday with a left hamstring injury.)
“Whether you’re in college or you’re in the NFL,” Kelly said, “you’re just trying to put your players in position to make plays.”
A desirable goal, but it’s one easier said than done.
Casserly sees both Schiano and Kelly as men who know how to win, men who can succeed in the NFL if they find continuity at quarterback. Schiano fights distractions on a number of fronts, and his greatest challenge will be dealing with a growing national perception that the Bucs are a franchise mismanaged, lost.
Meanwhile, Kelly’s task is more manageable. He must evolve as the competition adjusts to his tendencies, proving he can grow within the game. He’s a long way from Oregon.
“If they don’t succeed, it’s not because they’re not smart enough or not a good enough coach,” Casserly said. “Nick Saban lost because he didn’t get the quarterback position figured out (with the Miami Dolphins). That’s why they didn’t win there.
“That’s going to be ultimately what they have to do.”
The meeting between Schiano and Kelly on Sunday is another step in their respective transitions. A win by the Bucs, and they can shift the conversation from off-the-field drama and misfortune, at least for a short while, to their first victory since beating the Atlanta Falcons to close last season. A win by the Eagles, and Kelly earns consecutive victories for the first time in his NFL career, a notable achievement that would build credibility for his vision.
“There’s a lot of different things,” Kelly said, when asked about differences between coaching at the college and pro levels.
One thing, however, remains the same: The need to win.
Both men must do it as soon and as often as possible.