casualty on Black Monday. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' season was a mess from the beginning, ending with four wins and what seemed like 400 problems.Greg Schiano certainly wasn't the most surprising
But when the axe fell on Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik there was shock, according to one organizational source.
"Greg and Mark both got caught completely by surprise," the source told Yahoo Sports on Monday. "Both of them felt over the last few weeks the team had made some improvement. We had somewhat stabilized from the 0-8 start."
It wasn't just surprise, though. There was suspicion as well.
"I think they felt a little deceived," the source said. "They were led to believe if certain changes were made, Greg would survive for one more year. The feeling a little bit [on Monday] is that was a little bit of a ruse."
It certainly isn't surprising to find blame and intrigue in the Bucs organization. The team had one of the ugliest years in recent memory, with an MRSA outbreak, a leak of former quarterback Josh Freeman's health records, a continuing belief outside of the organization that Schiano had lost the team, the eventual falling out with Freeman, and all that losing. The situation at One Buc Place seemed toxic from training camp – literally and metaphorically – and it turns out things may have been even more dysfunctional than imagined. The source called the Bucs "the worst personnel group in all of pro football."
"So many failed draft picks," he said. "So many bad decisions."
Some of the most talented Bucs over the past couple of years had impressive 2013 seasons for other teams. Running back LeGarrette Blount had a franchise-record 334 all-purpose yards for the Patriots on Sunday. Aqib Talib is a Pro Bowler for New England. Michael Bennett is a standout with one of the league's best defenses in Seattle. Even defensive end Wallace Gilberry had 7½ sacks this season for the Bengals. Meanwhile, several of the players brought in have not done as well as hoped, including defensive back Dashon Golson and receiver Mike Williams, who was signed to a big contract over the summer in the hopes of a monster season to complement Vincent Jackson. He had only two touchdowns.
"They really opened up their wallets and spent money," the source said, "and got burned."
Most of the public blame went to Schiano and Freeman: Schiano for his hard-charging ways and Freeman for his inability to take forceful control of the team. They were never a good match. "He wasn't studious, wasn't a grinder," the source said of Freeman. "Greg wanted somebody like that." But even after Freeman was cut and the team started winning (four victories in the season's second half), there were other issues of continuity.
Freeman was "not as bad as some of the people we've put up with in the second half," the source said.
Schiano, though able to fight through the worst of the storm, still didn't have the credibility to convince the entire team to buy in. He built Rutgers from nothing, but he didn't win big games on the big stage.
"You can't bluff players," the source said. "You can't go up there and tell people what a championship organization is because I've done it when you haven't done it."
The next head coach, assuming he has more of an NFL pedigree, could have one advantage Schiano did not: a healthy team from the start of training camp. The Bucs never had their two best offensive linemen, Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph, fully healed at the same time. Cornerback Darrelle Revis was held back in the preseason while he rehabbed a torn ACL injury. And running back Doug Martin, the team's biggest talent, went down midseason with a torn labrum. Those four stars, if kept and at full strength, change the look of the entire team.
"We didn't get it done," Schiano, 11-21 in two seasons with the Bucs, said during a Monday news conference. "I take full responsibility for that. But on the field, we're closer than people think."
Yet there's still the matter of the quarterback. Mike Glennon had a good rookie season, but is he good enough to lead the team to the playoffs?
"His eyes got big, deer in the headlights," the source said. "The more they tried to take the gloves off, the worse he got. When you have to push the ball down the field, some of the things that were criticisms of him [in college] started to show up."
A decision will have to be made on Glennon, and on a top 10 pick in the 2014 draft. Expect Bucs ownership to bring in a coach-general manager tandem which features something the team didn't have much of under Schiano and Dominik: chemistry.
"I don't think, as a team, we ever gelled," the source said.
That, in the end, may have been the root of a season of unwanted surprises.
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- Greg Schiano
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