Tonight’s Thursday night NFL matchup just so happens to hold particular interest not only for fans of the two teams involved, but also the entirety of the NFL fan base in a broader sense when the resurgent Carolina Panthers travel to Tampa Bay to take on the reeling Buccaneers and their embattled head coach, Greg Schiano.
Certainly, any team starting a season 0-6 is going to have multiple issues. Look at the Jacksonville Jaguars and the single-win New York Giants as examples for comparison.
Jacksonville’s issues are pretty clear – lack of NFL talent. While they actually have a pretty decent and, in fact, underrated WR duo in Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts, they just do not have the talent in other areas of the roster to be a competitive football team. I don’t think even a Bill Belichick or a Harbaugh brother could coax more than about four wins from a squad like that. Even a Don Shula in his prime would struggle to make them a .500 team.
The Giants have a proven winner in Head Coach Tom Coughlin and in quarterback Eli Manning. They have even better talent overall at WR than does Jacksonville, but the injury bug has smitten the club very hard this season and they’ve even had to bring in over the hill running backs (Brandon Jacobs) and sign rookies that never had seen an NFL snap in their lives (Michael Cox), so what ails these two squads stands out.
The situation in Tampa Bay has a lot more layers to it. The one glaring weakness they had last season was in the secondary and they didn’t sit around and do nothing – far from it.
The organization was proactive about it. They shelled out major cash to get All-World CB Darrelle Revis from the Jets, paying him a million dollars a game. They got Dashon Goldson from the San Francisco 49′ers and he’s a top-ten NFL safety. They drafted Jonathan Banks this year to fill the other starting corner slot while keeping second-year safety Mark Barron from Alabama.
With two huge free agents and two first round picks starting in the secondary, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say the Bucs’ brass expected more improvement than they’ve seen. The team is 18th in passing defense with 252 passing yards per game allowed after having gone through this transformation.
As the season wears on, more and more news is leaking out from the locker room. “We have too much talent to be 0-4″ was one of the least inflammatory statements made by any of their players this past month and as 0-4 went to 0-5 and stands now at 0-6, the frustration is growing.
I wrote a bit about how much three of the NFC South’s coaches were on the hot seat to some degree (pun intended) and noted that Schiano’s job security was the lowest of the coaches in the division.
Since then, his seat has warmed considerably.
The “piling on” has begun in earnest as old criticisms of his style have been dusted off and used as newer ones have surfaced.
Some analysts say the defense is playing a lot of zone coverage on passing downs, and that’s not what “Revis Island” is all about. Why pay someone a million a game to allow a receiver to make the catch and then go tackle him when just about any schmoe not in a body cast can do the same thing?
The bigger point is that Schiano’s scheme doesn’t fit the players, is too inflexible to let them do what they do best and isn’t taking advantage of their talents. They were doing just as well – if not better – two years ago when it seemed like their highest paid player was making $85 a week before taxes.
Then there’s the MRSA outbreak which has hit a number of Bucs’ players. While this isn’t a coaching issue, it certainly is an unnecessary distraction and yet another storyline of negative attention focusing on the organization.
Lastly, and this is perhaps the most pervasive attitude by his former players who now can speak out, is that he runs a “military-style” operation. Again, the inflexibility is biting him.
Players are saying “He wants to be Bill Belichick, but he’s not…he hasn’t come close to earning that,” and similar comments. As a story on NFL.com says, a lot of people think Bill Belichick is a [jerk] but he’s a [jerk] with a bunch of Super Bowl rings and that in and of itself gives you credibility no matter what “style” you employ.
Check that story out here, “Greg Schiano’s regime ‘Like being in Cuba,’ ex-Buc says.”
Even Don Shula, of Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Mercury Morris fame completely changed his coaching style once Dan Marino fell to him in the draft. His career of coaching power running, ball-control trench slugfest football did a 180-degree about-face with Marino. It’s like going from being a current Minnesota Vikings Adrian Peterson 30+ carry per game offense to a Denver Broncos-style vertical passing offense from one year to the next.
When Schiano entered the league, a lot of people noted “he runs the Bucs like a college program” which, once again, insinuates that he has little tolerance for people who deviate from any details of his plan and when the plan doesn’t work, don’t change the plan, just get more rigid in following it. He has things exactly backwards.
One of his players even said “He (Schiano) suffers from ‘small man’ syndrome.”
That’s not the sort of talk you want to have going around if you’re trying to guide professional ball players to win a game, let alone get a title of any sort. I (among many, many others, mind you) have been saying for weeks that Schiano is in danger of losing the locker room and now it sounds to me like he has.
Given the 0-6 record, the time Schiano has had to get the ship right since taking over from the Ryheem Morris debacle, the money spent on free agents, and now the growing chorus of disdain from people that played for him, I think he’s the most likely fellow of any NFL coach to not even survive until the end of the season.
If the Bucs get embarrassed at home tonight – and I mean really embarrassed, I think there’s a distinct possibility he could get fired tomorrow.
Yes, he could.
I don’t think the odds are all that high that will actually happen, but if his squad plays like the Rams did against Carolina last week, at minimum the table will be set for his departure before the end of the calendar year. If the carnage is that bad, the team plays that poorly, the game gets out of hand early and never gets remotely close, and the Panthers have their way with his team, there can be very little to be gained by keeping him on.
I think in Schiano’s mind, rookie QB Mike Glennon’s continued improvement is what he’s hanging his hat on.
And he’s delusional.
Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye