In trying to solve one problem, Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano may have made another one more difficult to fix.
Wednesday, Schiano named Mike Glennon as the new starting quarterback for Tampa’s winless team (0-3), a move that makes sense on one obvious level. The offense was wretched under Josh Freeman, and the 6-foot-7 Glennon has a strong arm that can make use of so-far-wasted flankers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams.
So there’s that.
Schiano’s bigger issue, though, is one of trust. He had to deny a report that he rigged the captain’s vote to displace Freeman of that title. There was a meeting with star cornerback Darrelle Revis to clear the air about a report saying the former New York Jet wasn’t used to Schiano’s micromanaging ways. Then last week, as the cries from outside the Bucs complex rose for Glennon, Schiano told fans on local radio, “We’re going to work real hard with [Freeman] as we’ve been doing. When you get a little mojo going, a little rhythm going, it can take you a long way.” And just two days ago, in the wake of the Bucs’ 23-3 loss to New England, Schiano insisted he was sticking with Freeman.
Now, though, Freeman won’t have time to get any mojo going. It’s too late for him and it’s starting to get late for Schiano. These aren’t the 2012 Washington Redskins or Indianapolis Colts or Miami Dolphins – teams that had previously struggled and could afford to wait for a rookie quarterback to blossom. The Bucs brought in defenders Revis and Dashon Goldson to win now, and they’re going to have to win now under a rookie quarterback with a tendency to throw the big pass and also throw the big pick.
“The main thing for us was the performance of the team the last nine games was 1-8 and that’s tough,” Bucs GM Mark Dominik told USA TODAY Sports Wednesday. “[Freeman] hasn’t played well. That’s a part of it. If you don’t have a quarterback in this league, you don’t have a shot. We felt like we’d seen enough of what we needed to see.”
The rookie quarterback will get a pass if this doesn’t work out right away. The second-year coach may not. Schiano, previously a head coach only at the college level, has a history of finding terrific talent, but he does not have a history of championships, and so his credibility at this level isn’t as proven as it would be if he came from a winning NFL franchise. So in his case, the benefit of the doubt will be quicker to run out.
When a coach’s track record isn’t there, or is unclear, there’s a temptation to wonder if a coach really knows what he’s doing. That’s amplified when the coach is hard-edged and demanding, which Schiano is. This move shows Schiano has a strong opinion about Glennon – Schiano recruited Glennon at Rutgers – and the coming weeks will show if his opinion is right. If it’s not, then it will be far more difficult to believe his other opinions are right.
Schiano is the coach who changed the culture at Rutgers for the better, and that won him the credibility to get an NFL job. He came in last year and changed the culture in Tampa, demanding hard work and precision in a way that even veteran Ronde Barber embraced. The defense is much improved, which matches Schiano’s impact going all the way back to when he was yelling at Ed Reed as an assistant at the University of Miami. The Bucs are now in a place where they can win with a dose of offense.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that Schiano’s also the guy who didn’t beat West Virginia in 11 tries, and didn’t produce a lot of memorable offensive players not named Ray Rice. Scarlet Knights fans will remember (or have repressed) the Chas Dodd/Gary Nova/Tom Savage rotation over the last years of Schiano’s term. You can blame poor quarterbacking in the short run, but eventually it’s the fault of the coach who doesn’t develop his signal callers into solid starters. That part of Schiano’s rep is going to lose him credibility fast if Glennon doesn’t succeed this season. If Glennon looks ready, it helps prove Freeman just wasn’t good enough. If Glennon falters, it becomes even more of a possibility that Schiano doesn’t build championship teams.
A parallel can be found with Bill Belichick in Cleveland. Looking back now, many wonder why it didn’t work out there. At the time, though, the coach’s demeanor rankled many, he didn’t have a reliable quarterback – remember rookie quarterback Eric Zeier in 1995? – and patience ran out quickly. After all, who was he but Bill Parcells’ assistant?
The Bucs have won without star quarterbacks before. Brad Johnson won a Super Bowl in Tampa. But for the most part, there haven’t been standout signal-callers and this era requires that more than ever. Glennon is the 33rd starting quarterback in franchise history, and franchise history only goes back to the 1970s. Freeman clearly isn’t the answer, so Schiano shouldn’t get too much criticism for making this decision. The question is whether Glennon can take the team any farther. If he doesn’t, then the question becomes whether Schiano can take the team any farther.
Dominik said he thinks the Bucs can beat Arizona at home this weekend with Glennon as a “game manager.” But the game manager on trial here isn’t the quarterback.
It’s the head coach.