When an established college coach leaves for the NFL, it can sometimes leave emotions a little raw. And with the instant nature of today's communication options, those emotions can be bared quickly and publicly.
Thus, it was gratifying for Greg Schiano, introduced on Friday as the new head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, to read what his (now former) Rutgers players had sent him via text messages over the previous 24 hours.
"The way I approached it at Rutgers, those were my sons, and that's why it was so hard to leave," said Schiano on Friday, shortly after his press conference at One Buccaneer Place. "But I was so impressed with my players at Rutgers. Look, I've been a player, I know you feel disappointed, you feel like this guy's leaving us. But I can't tell you the number of text messages that I've received in the last 24 hours that make me know that we're getting through to those kids, that they understand. They were just thanking me and saying they were going to carry on the tradition and carry on the lessons that they learned. That's why you coach."
Schiano is gratified because he now knows he built something that will last at Rutgers, that he reached his players and ingrained his message. The Buccaneers believe Schiano will do the same thing in Tampa.
Josh Freeman, the 24-year-old franchise quarterback around which Schiano's offense will be built, and LeGarrette Blount, the 250-pound back with the occasional circus moves, made a point of being at Schiano's Friday introduction. Both immediately said they were buying in to their new coach's message. All agree that the foundation for Schiano's success as the Bucs' next leader will be 53 young men doing the exact same thing.
"That's the only way to have success in this league, to have people buying in, as he said, with trust, belief and accountability," said Freeman. "There's really no other way. Everybody's got to be in it full-tilt from Day One. I think the direction Coach Schiano's going to take the team, it's going to be great, it's going to be exciting."
Added Blount: "Whatever he's going to do, whatever he brings to the table, I'm buying into it. As long as we buy in it seems like he has a pretty good formula for winning. We're going to buy into what we're asked to do and hopefully we come out on the other side."
Before even taking questions from the assembled media at Friday’s press conference, Schiano spoke impressively and concisely about his philosophies as a leader and a team-builder. He spoke of building around "a humble, unselfish attitude of sacrifice" and of employing assistant coaches who are, above all, great teachers and communicators. At one point, he distilled some of the most important points into a motto he has always used as a guide for him and his teams: TBA – Trust, Belief and Accountability.
"There will be one common message," said Schiano. "Before we get to the Xs and Os, before we get to the fundamentals, it's something that I believe is critical: 'TBA,' and that's not 'To Be Announced.' It's trust, belief and accountability.
"Trust – 100 percent honesty. No room for 99; 100 percent honesty, and do what you're supposed to do when you're supposed to do it. That's trust to me. Belief – belief in yourself, number one, and belief in the Buccaneer Way. There is going to be a Buccaneer Way and there are going to be Buccaneer Men. You've got to believe in that, otherwise this isn't the place [for you]. And then accountability. All those things are great, but as a coaching staff and a team and an organization, we have to hold each other accountable. That's not always easy. That's where it gets sticky, that's where it gets tough. That's my job as the head football coach to make sure that's happening throughout the whole football team and the organization."
Freeman heard the message loud and clear.
"I love it," he said. "Those are the things that are timeless. He obviously had success at Rutgers, and I'm looking forward to playing for a coach with such conviction. Like he was saying, it's just about accountability. If a meeting starts at a specific time, it's your responsibility to be there. We've got to hold each other accountable. Really, that's how it should be."
In the relatively few hours between Schiano's name surfacing as a front-runner for the Bucs' job and his introduction on Friday, those seeking insight into the man came across the word 'disciplinarian' fairly frequently. Schiano is regarded as a coach with control of his program and his players, as a structured leader with rules and consequences.
Schiano himself doesn't really take to that particular 'd' word, preferring instead to describe a culture of trust that goes both ways. And he knows that he's not going to get that trust, and the all-out roster-wide commitment he needs, if he doesn't first forge a strong interpersonal relationship with his players. Schiano believes that principle holds on the NFL level as well as in college, and in fact extends beyond the office and the practice field.
"There's an old saying in coaching: 'Until they know how much you care, they don't care how much you know,'" said Schiano. "You can know all you want, but if you don't care, they're not going to either. But when they know you care, then they'll run through that wall for you. I just think that's the way I live my life, not just in coaching players to play better. If you're going to have a relationship with somebody, then you have a relationship with them. If you're not, then you choose not to. We're all in this together, and if they have an issue then I'm here for them, and I would hope that they'd be there for me and my family if something was going on.
The need for actual moments of discipline are reduced by this common trust, and by across-the-board accountability. There can be no basis for accountability, however, if there are no underlying consequences, and those too are an unbending part of Schiano's approach.
"We will have one unified message [as a team], and we'll discuss it and come up with what it is," he said. "I can tell you that accountability doesn't work unless it's consistent. You give a very clear vision and a clear expectation. Most anger and frustration comes as a result of unfulfilled expectations. So if you can give clear visions and clear expectations, then it's up to the players, it's up to the coaches and it's up to me. I think I'm going to have very clear expectations from the Glazer family and Mark Dominik and it's up to meet those expectations.
"It doesn't work unless there are consequences; that's human nature. I was always best, as a young adult, when I knew where the boundaries were. When you don't know where the boundaries are, you start drifting and all of a sudden you're in a bad place and you don't know how you got there. There have got to be boundaries, and when they hit the boundaries, there's a consequence to bring them back in. Sometimes that consequence can drive someone away, and that's the unfortunate part of it."
To be sure, there will be Xs and Os and techniques and practice habits and strategies layered upon this foundation. Like the eight men who preceded him as head coach of the Buccaneers, Schiano will have to prove himself as a strategist and a decision-maker in order to be judged as a success. Ultimately, he will have to produce victories, as is the case for head coaches everywhere.
But Schiano knows he has to construct a winning environment – an environment of trust and accountability and shared goals – in order to do that. Judging from the reaction to his first statements as the team's new leader, he is going to find a roster of players ready to help him do just that.
"You've got to give him your trust, you've got to believe in your guys and you've got to have accountability," said Blount. "Once you have all those three things going on for you, now the players just have to go out there and operate things on the football field."