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SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.
I’m back from my 10-day Thanksgiving family vacation to my hometown of Kansas City and my alma mater, Kansas State, where I saw the Wildcats basketball team trounce Northern Arizona and the K-State football team come from behind in thrilling fashion to beat Iowa State in “Farmageddon” with a touchdown on the last play to win, 20-19. I got bronchitis from the cold temperatures as a lovely parting gift from the Midwest, which is why I wasn’t on this week’s Pewter Nation Podcast. I want to thank the Tampa Bay Times’ Greg Auman, 620 WDAE’s Pat Donovan and Roy Cummings from FloridaFootballInsiders.com for filling in and helping Mark Cook and Trevor Sikkema out with the podcasts. Sorry if you’ve missed me – I’ll return next week.
Today marks the return of the SR’s Fab 5 – serviced by Discount Garage Doors – as there wasn’t one last week on Black Friday, which allowed a lot of you the chance to score some great deals during your holiday shopping instead of waiting to read the Fab 5 (you’re welcome). If you haven’t had a chance to read my latest SR’s Fab 5: What Gruden Could Bring (Back) To The Bucs, please do so now. I believe now more than ever that there is a strong likelihood that Gruden returns to the sidelines in Tampa Bay next year.
Now on to this week’s SR’s Fab 5 and some real inside scoop to kick things off.
FAB 1. Schiano Got A Raw Deal In Tennessee
For years, fans and alumni of the University of Tennessee bought into the “Grumors,” wanting former Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden to take over the crumbling Volunteers football program. Despite being a former graduate assistant and meeting his wife, Cindy, a former Vols cheerleader, in Knoxville, Gruden was never going to Tennessee.
Gruden isn’t going to return to coaching at the college level, as he told me in a previous edition of SR’s Fab 5 in July. I’ve maintained that if Gruden returns to coaching it will likely be next year in Tampa Bay as Dirk Koetter’s replacement.
The Volunteers swung and missed at one Bucs head coach, but nearly had another one in Greg Schiano until athletic director John Currie botched it by not running his selection of Schiano past the boosters and fan base first. Schiano was hired and essentially fired on the same day when the offer was withdrawn before the university chancellor signed off on it on Sunday.
Schiano, who is Ohio State’s defensive coordinator, has been through the ringer over this and I feel for him.
Perhaps you don’t because of his 11-21 record in his two years as the head coach in Tampa Bay.
You may not like Schiano for his hard ass, “toes on the line” ways, or for his tight, pensive game management decisions that cost the Bucs a few victories that were within their grasp from 2012-13.
You might not like Schiano because he started off his second – and final – season with a 0-8 record.
You may not like Schiano because he had a hand in drafting safety Mark Barron in the first round in 2012 and cornerback Jonathan Banks in the second round in 2013, or you believe the narrative that he “ruined” Josh Freeman.
But don’t dislike Schiano based on unsubstantiated rumors that he somehow knew about the abuses that occurred at Penn State by former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky and didn’t report them.
Some would have you believe that double hearsay from Mike McQueary, a former assistant coach who never worked with or for Schiano, means that Schiano somehow was guilty of covering up a crime. That’s dangerous to believe, and requires a great leap of faith, especially when Schiano himself says that those allegations aren’t true.
The Washington Post wrote: “In a 2015 deposition that was unsealed last year, former Nittany Lions assistant coach Mike McQueary testified that another Penn State coach had told him that Schiano had talked of seeing Sandusky abusing a boy in the early 1990s.
‘Greg had come into his office white as a ghost and said he just saw Jerry doing something to a boy in the shower,’ McQueary said he heard of Schiano, who worked under Sandusky at Penn State from 1990 to 1995, according to the court document. Schiano, however, denied saying such a thing, telling ESPN’s Adam Schefter last year, ‘I never saw any abuse, nor had reason to suspect any abuse, during my time at Penn State.’
Whether you believe Schiano or not is up to you. I believe him, and when Tennessee withdrew its offer to hire him as its next head football coach because an Internet mob linked allegedly false accusations to Schiano there were plenty of media members and those in the college and pro football realm that cried foul.
Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel gave a staunch defense of Schiano on Sunday, and plenty of well-respected college football analysts from ESPN’s Booger McFarland and Kirk Herbstreit did the same.
Without proof of any wrongdoing, the Tennessee Internet mob is simply assassinating Schiano’s character – proving that these are the dangerous times we’re living in.
Make an accusation and it has to be real, right?
Do you believe the Uber driver that has accused Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston of groping her two years ago? Winston, who was vindicated from sexual accusations at Florida State, said on Thursday that he would be vindicated again, and maintains his innocence.
Over a half a dozen women accused former President Bill Clinton of everything from groping to rape during the 1990s, and his accusers were slut-shamed by the media that was sympathetic to Clinton’s politics.
Now, in this cultural climate, women are coming out of the woodwork and taking down men of power from Washington, D.C. to New York to Alabama to Hollywood. The sheer volume of victims lead everyone to believe that Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein is guilty of just about everything he’s being accused of, and rightly so. NBC just canned its $26 million-a-year-man Matt Lauer over a host of sexual improprieties over the years.
The cultural climate quickly shifted about a decade ago in college football when some high-profile coaches got a bit too physical with some of their players, costing Mark Mangino his job at Kansas, Mike Leach his job at Texas Tech and Jim Leavitt his job at South Florida all within the same year. A few years earlier, former Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz used to grab his players by the facemask during games on national TV a good deal and it was essentially laughed off rather than viewed as abuse at the time.
Now we are suggesting that Schiano must be guilty of not reporting a crime because of double hearsay?
God help us all.
One of Schiano’s strongest defenders was former Bucs head coach Mark Dominik, who hired him in Tampa Bay in 2012 to replace Raheem Morris. Keep in mind that it was also Schiano’s 11-21 record that contributed to Dominik getting fired, too.
Dominik didn’t have to defend Schiano, but did so on Twitter on Sunday night.
We spent hours & hours interviewing & background checks on Greg Schiano. Yes we didn’t win. Fact-he’s honest, awesome father/husband, & an excellent football coach. This shouldn’t be whether YOU think you like him or not, you don’t even know him. #Meyer #Belichick ask them.
— Mark Dominik (@MarkdominikNFL) November 27, 2017
Now I’m about to reveal some inside information about Schiano’s time in Tampa Bay. I’m going to peel back the curtain and let you see what goes on behind the scenes covering the Buccaneers.
With the Bucs reeling with a 0-7 record and with former first-round quarterback Josh Freeman benched and then released in the first half of the 2013 season, Schiano’s tenure in Tampa Bay was on life support. There were “Fire Schiano” billboards around town, and I wrote that Schiano needed to be fired for obvious reasons, including how he mishandled Freeman.
A good deal of what I wrote came from information from sources inside Josh Freeman’s inner circle, which Mark Cook and I deemed to be credible at the time. We had known these sources for years.
My columns against Schiano were completely one-sided because Schiano did not talk with the local media – on or off the record – outside of his press conferences for the majority of his tenure. He was standoffish and arrogant. Schiano had no use for the media, and that would prove to be part of his undoing in Tampa Bay.
Sensing the error of his ways in November of 2013 after a 0-7 start, Schiano made a last-ditch attempt to reach out to the media after a wave of negative columns about how he “ruined” Freeman in favor of Mike Glennon, the quarterback he drafted in the third round in 2013.
It turns out that Schiano was embarrassed for Freeman that he didn’t get voted as a team captain that summer. It’s almost unheard of in the NFL that a veteran starting quarterback isn’t a captain. Some in the media questioned whether Schiano had it in for Freeman and rigged the vote, but he kept the ballots in his desk as proof. Schiano briefly thought about rigging the votes the other way and naming Freeman a captain despite the lack of votes, but couldn’t bring himself to do it do it because it wasn’t the right thing to do.
The truth is that Freeman was aloof and simply not a good leader. He was well liked by his teammates, but few viewed the quiet Freeman as an actual team leader. My media friends at Kansas State University where Freeman played for three years told me that Freeman wasn’t even a great leader in college. I could see that with my own eyes from his time in Tampa and sense that from my interactions with Freeman on and off the field.
I believed Schiano didn’t rig the vote against Freeman, but that was about all I believed about him – until Cook and I met with Schiano in the wide receivers room after practice on the Friday before the Seattle game.
Schiano called the meeting with me to clear the air and confidentially explain some of his decisions regarding Freeman. I heard from other media members that they later had similar meetings as Schiano tried to turn the tide and save his job, but I’ll only share with you some of my interaction with Schiano from the meeting he had with PewterReport.com.
I will leave out the details about Freeman due to confidentiality reasons, but what I can tell you is that Cook and I believe 100 percent of Schiano’s shocking account of what happened between he and the quarterback, who happened to be in a contract year in 2013. The specifics that Schiano provided us were corroborated by several other Bucs players and employees when asked about them by Cook and myself.
Schiano’s concerns about Freeman – and that’s what I’ll call them – dated back to the Bucs’ slide after a 6-4 start to the 2012 season, Schiano’s initial campaign in Tampa Bay, and continued in the 2013 offseason. Schiano and Dominik were so concerned about Freeman that the team did not offer him a contract extension. Instead, they drafted Glennon in the third round as a safety net in case Freeman’s downward spiral continued in his contract year, which it did.
I am absolutely convinced that Freeman’s career wounds were completely self-inflicted, and given the fact that he had several opportunities to restart his career in Minnesota, New York, Miami, Brooklyn in the Fall Experimental Football League, and finally in Indianapolis – and failed to do so – speaks volumes.
During our meeting Schiano looked me dead in the eye and told me he spent more time trying to get Freeman’s life turned around than he had ever spent with any other young player dating back to his days at Rutgers. That was a pretty powerful statement – and a believable one.
Schiano had every incentive to make his arranged marriage with Freeman work. If Freeman didn’t pan out and build on a record-breaking 2012 campaign Schiano would likely be fired sooner rather than later, and he knew it. Of course that’s exactly what happened.
As Schiano was sharing some details about Freeman in the meeting, I became incensed. I angrily picked up my cell phone and waved it at Schiano, telling him that I had the phone numbers of Tony Dungy, Jon Gruden and Morris in it, but I didn’t have his. The reason being that Schiano had only two “off the record” lunches with a gaggle of Bucs beat writers in two years, but never spoke on background about any of these issues regarding the supposed franchise quarterback with me or anyone else in the media.
Incredulously, I asked why he didn’t share any of these details with the media on background so that a narrative could be formed to inform fans that all was not right with Freeman heading into the 2013 season. Schiano said he made a mistake in not talking with me and other Bucs beat writers about what was really happening behind the scenes, and then gave me his phone number on the spot.
I believed Schiano’s sincerity and immediately felt betrayed by some of the false things that I had been fed by Freeman’s camp. I had written a one-sided column calling for the firing of Schiano two weeks earlier without knowing all the facts. I felt bad because I had unintentionally misled my PewterReport.com readers by not having the full story.
That was ultimately Schiano’s fault because he never communicated with me or any other Bucs beat writer about what was happening behind the scenes. By then the damage had been done. Tampa Bay was about to be 0-8 after an overtime loss to Seattle. Too many games were lost, and Schiano came to the realization that he needed a better relationship with the media much too late.
Over the last few weeks of the season, Schiano and I communicated via text (that’s commonplace with media members, coaches and front office personnel). One time he texted me and I was unable to get back to him for hours because I was taking my mother, who has a debilitating neck condition, to the doctor.
I casually mentioned her condition to him in my reply and Schiano responded, saying that that he would pray for her, which was a nice gesture. In subsequent texts with him over the past four years, he still asks how she’s doing from time to time, showing me that he genuinely cares about people. Schiano has nothing to gain by inquiring about my mother’s health.
I also mentioned that I was my son’s Pop Warner defensive line coach in one text and Schiano went on to ask how our team did on a weekly basis in the playoffs in 2013 before he was relieved of his duties. He even continued to ask about our youth football team during the next season when he was no longer working with the Bucs.
Schiano invited Cook and I to lunch during the 2014 season to catch up and said he thought long and hard about our meeting in November 2013, and how he learned the importance of keeping the media dialed in and informed to the inner workings of the football team. He didn’t feel the need to do that at Rutgers, but that the media had grown in importance over the years and he failed to recognize its impact. Schiano told us he spent part of the year following his firing traveling to New England to visit Bill Belichick, and around college campuses seeking out advice on what the successful coaches do in order to improve as coaches, including a stop at Alabama where Nick Saban gave him some great advice.
I’ve always maintained that that the win-loss column gets coaches fired, not the Sunday column in the sports section – or on PewterReport.com. But sometimes having some allies in the media that can report what is really going on at One Buccaneer Place can help buy a coach who is dealing with extenuating circumstances more time to get things turned around. Instead, Schiano had enemies in Tampa.
Trust me, the Freeman situation was full of extenuating circumstances.
I’m not saying that Schiano should or should not have been given another year. What’s done is done. But I do wonder what would have happened had Schiano shed some light on to what was happening behind the scenes to the media – if he would have been given a reprieve or not.
I’m not telling you any of this because of any possible influence I’ve had on Schiano moving forward. I’m saying this because when I finally got to know him, I found him to be an honest, caring individual. When I reached out to him on the phone for some advice before our 2015 Pop Warner season, Schiano invited me and my head coach out to his house where he spent two hours with us, going over all of his teaching videos on takeaways and some defensive drills from his days at Rutgers and Tampa Bay. Then he gave us all of those videos on a hard drive to review with our other coaches on the way out the door.
I was quite surprised. Schiano was incredibly gracious with his time, and he didn’t owe me anything. He was just a football coach who genuinely wanted to help my youth football team out.
Yes, Schiano had his micromanaging, egotistical, tyrannical ways around One Buccaneer Place, and treated some of the employees, fellow coaches and players worse than he intended to. In speaking to him several times since 2013 I believe his firing undoubtedly humbled him.
In my texts with him since he’s been at Ohio State, I sense that he’s grown immensely from who he was as the former Bucs’ coach. I think when he gets his next opportunity to be a head coach in college – which is what he wants to do – I think Schiano will treat people around him better and have a much better working relationship with the media.
I’ve found that Schiano is just as eager as a learner as he is as a teacher. In a lot of ways, he’s the Boy Scout he looks like with his clean-cut appearance and closely cropped military-style haircut.
I have no idea whether or not Schiano witnessed Sandusky molesting a young boy in the showers. But if he says he didn’t, I’m inclined to believe him. I think Schiano would have reported it if he ever saw it happen at Penn State. In fact, as a father, and as a guy who once challenged former second-round pick Brian Price to a fight after the former UCLA standout got in Schiano’s face at One Buc Place, I believe had Schiano seen any abuse of a child he would have kicked Sandusky’s ass on the spot.
Even armed with all he learned from his time in Tampa Bay and recently at Ohio State under Urban Meyer, I think Schiano, a guy from the northeast, wouldn’t have been a good fit at southern school like Tennessee. I think Volunteers fans sensed that from the get-go and didn’t want their school to hire Schiano. That’s understandable.
As SI.com’s Andy Staples accurately pointed out, a lot of times an athletic director will put out a trial balloon in the media to gauge interest from the fan base in potential coaching candidates before any contracts are drafted and hires made. Thinking he was smarter than everybody else, athletic director John Currie bungled the hiring of Butch Jones’ replacement by electing not to do this.
Currie used to be the A.D. at Kansas State and his meddling, micromanaging ways ran popular basketball coach Frank Martin out of town to South Carolina where he took the Gamecocks to their first Final Four this past spring. Currie also infuriated legenday K-State head coach Bill Snyder and his son, Sean, who is the director of football operations and special teams coordinator that basically runs the program for his 78-year old dad, on many occasions. I’m not surprised that so many quality candidates have turned down the Tennessee job because of Currie’s involvement.
It’s one thing for fans to object to Tennessee hiring Schiano, which the Volunteers Internet mob did, but to do so over what are very likely false accusations is just plain wrong. Schiano got a raw deal.
I hope the Tennessee incident doesn’t scare off another major university from hiring Schiano. Despite his failings here in Tampa Bay, the bet here is that he succeeds as a college head coach the next time around if he goes to the right situation – and the Internet mob that is clinging to double hearsay leaves well enough alone.