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January 28, 2012 @ 9:12 pm
Current rating: 5.00 Stars/2 Votes

Schiano and LeGrand: A Bond That Can't Be Broken

Written by Eric
Eric Horchy


Beat Writer E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
New Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano took a moment Friday afternoon to speak about his special relationship with injured Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand.

As Buccaneers fans continue to get to know their newly appointed head coach inside and out, from football philosophies to motivational intangibles, there’s one storyline from Greg Schiano’s past life at Rutgers University that will continue to develop and evolve here in Tampa Bay.

That’s the tragic inspiration of Eric LeGrand and the role the 21-year-old plays in the life of the Buccaneers’ new leading man.

LeGrand is the Scarlet Knights defensive tackle who suffered a spinal-cord injury during a game against Army in 2010 while making a play on the kickoff team. His story, spanning from the initial diagnosis of lifelong quadriplegia to his remarkable path toward recovery while remaining perpetually positive, has been well-documented by press outlets across the nation.

Schiano took a few moments from the media room at One Buccaneer Place on Friday to discuss how LeGrand has impacted his life and so many others around him.

“That’s a life-changing event, for sure, and I don’t wish it upon anybody,” he said. “It’s one of the toughest things to go through as a family, a coach and certainly for Eric as an individual. At the beginning that was literally the hardest thing I’ve ever been through, emotionally and physically, because I wasn’t sleeping. I didn’t want to cheat the team, but I wanted to make sure I was [at the hospital] every day. I gave Karen [LeGrand’s mother] a rest, so she’d wait for me. I’d get there and sit with him in the middle of the night and get some rest and then she’d come take over or her sister would take over.”

“But [Eric will] tell you that he thinks everything is happening for a reason and that he’s an inspiration for a lot of people. That’s what makes him the unbelievable guy that he is.”

One of the more moving and emotional moments that has been shared through the media came last October when LeGrand, from his motorized wheelchair, led the Scarlet Knights out of the locker room and onto the field for a home game against West Virginia. His Twitter message the following day read: “So I left tire tracks in the snow yesterday as I led my team out next time will be footprints.”

Another came following Rutgers’ 27-13 win over Iowa State in this December’s New Era Pinstripe Bowl, the Scarlet Knights’ fifth straight postseason victory. As LeGrand was being shown on the big screen sitting in the radio booth, Schiano took the Yankee Stadium public-address microphone and yelled, “Hey ‘Big E!’ This one’s for you!”

LeGrand’s smiling face wheeling through the falling snow that October afternoon with his black-and-scarlet clad teammates behind him was voted by Sports Illustrated readers as the “Fans’ Choice Best Moment of 2011.”

“I thought it was nothing but fitting that he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated,” Schiano said. “That was unbelievable. He’s a special young man with everything he’s up against and having an incredible attitude. He’s an inspiration to the whole nation.”

All throughout the difficult ordeal, the Rutgers football family has never left LeGrand’s side and Schiano said that isn’t about to change just because he’s now 1,100 miles south in Tampa.

“One of the hard things about leaving [Rutgers] was that Eric’s part of our team,” Schiano said. By “our team,” he was referencing his own family.

“When we as a family were discussing the opportunity, one of the things all my kids said was, ‘Well, what about Eric?’ I said that we’ll have to fly Eric down, he’ll stay at our house and he’ll become a Bucs fan,” Schiano said with a laugh. “He’s a Denver fan so we’ve got to win him over.”

Regardless of the success Schiano has in converting LeGrand’s NFL fanhood, the presence each has in the other’s life is assuredly there to stay. Schiano added that he’s also felt a level of comfort over the past few days in the response he’s received from his Rutgers players after announcing the departure.

“The way I approached it at Rutgers was that those guys were my sons,” Schiano said. “That’s why it was so hard to leave. But I was so impressed with our players. That was the hardest meeting that I ever had going in there telling them what was going to happen. But after telling them, I can’t tell you the amount of text messages I’ve received in the last 24 hours. That just makes me know that we’re getting through to those kids; they understand.”

“[They were] just thanking me and saying that they’re going to carry on the traditions and carry on the lessons that they’ve learned.”

Of all the congratulatory texts and phone calls and emails Schiano’s received since taking the Tampa Bay job, though, one on Thursday sent via Twitter from BigE52_RU has to hold a little extra significance.

“Congratulations Coach Schiano thanks for turning me into a man #goodluck.”
Last modified on Sunday, 29 January 2012 09:56

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  • avatar

    I have no idea what kind of coach Schiano will be but I already like the person. I was there as he told the story about LeGrand and you could see the emotion all over his face. "These guys are all my sons," he said. And I believed him. He had to pause for a few seconds a couple times. Again the jury is out on if he will be successful football coach but Tampa may have scored another high character person along the lines of Dungy.
  • avatar

    Reminds me how thankful I am to have good health.
  • avatar

    This is how kind and loving people behave; I wish there were more of it in our world.
  • avatar

    Coach schiano may or may not work out but I love this hire. Got a little emotional reading that. I think these bucs are going to buy in and play for this man. Get yourself some coordinators coach. You have my full support
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