The Tampa Bay Buccaneers captured the Super Bowl after the 2002 season and haven't won a playoff game since. Through the decade, their identity was slowly lost, their toughness sapped. They went from feared to reverting back to their old hapless selves.
There were just three wins back in 2009. Four last season.
So here's Greg Schiano, fresh in from Rutgers where he took a moribund program and made it stand up for itself. And here are his Bucs, blowing a fourth-quarter lead to the New York Giants on Sunday, now trailing in the final seconds and watching the Giants get into victory formation for a 41-34 win.
The new coach out of Jersey wasn't going to take it kindly.
Instead, he ordered his defensive linemen to crowd the ball and surge on the snap. Protocol says you let the opponent take a knee, kill the clock and celebrate. Not Schiano. Not the Bucs. Not this time.
They tried to disrupt the snap by pushing the line into Eli Manning, an offensive lineman knocking into the star quarterback. It wasn't successful; unless the point was to show the league the Bucs were no longer lying down and/or send the generally genteel Giants over the edge.
"I don't think you do that," coach Tom Coughlin said.
"Little bit of a cheap shot," Manning added.
"We fight until they tell us 'game over,' " Schiano responded. "There's nothing dirty about it. There's [nothing] illegal about it."
And with that the NFL has, if not its newest rivalry, then at least it has a new coach who isn't all that interested in old-school unspoken rules.
Coughlin, the oldest coach in the league at 66, immediately confronted the burly Schiano – two decades his junior – after the game. Schiano didn't back down. There was no physical contact, just the two of them barking nose-to-nose.
Coughlin is correct, of course. This isn't something that's generally done in the NFL and it's a perfectly dumb way to get someone injured.
Schiano has a side also, though. He's going to coach his team his way, and if building an identity that speaks to the intensity of the new guy in charge and the belief that toughness and all-out, until-the-final-gun effort are the only ways to build a Super Bowl contender, then so be it.
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Schiano didn't come here to roll over. Two weeks into his tenure and that much is clear. Hurt feelings, a lecture over unspoken rules and the label of bush-league are the price worth paying.
There's little doubt he would, and will, do it again.
"We're not going to quit," Schiano told reporters after the game. "That's just the way I coach and teach our players. If some people are upset about it, that's just the way it goes. I don't have any hesitation. That's the way we play. We play clean, hard football until they tell us the game is over."
Some of the Bucs players, according to reports from the locker room, seemed a bit embarrassed by the tactic and resorted to shrugging it off as just following orders. Schiano should be fine with that also. He proved that he didn't come to the NFL to genuflect in front of anyone, not even a future Hall of Famer of Coughlin's stature.
So what if he's a college guy? So what if he has little experience in the league?
"If people watched Rutgers, they would know that's what we did at the end of the game," Schiano said. "We're not going to quit. That's the way I coach and teach our players."
This isn't Rutgers, of course. And perhaps he shouldn't have counted on all of America being familiar with the Scarlet Knights' games against Cincinnati or Louisville. About Schiano's only misstep here is the I'm-shocked-at-the-reaction-routine.
"I don't know if that's something not done in the National Football League," Schiano said.
That seems disingenuous. If it's done, it isn't often.
Schiano is best served simply owning the entire thing. The truth is the Buccaneers' loss Sunday was so painful that everyone associated with it should've been fuming as the coach was while those final seconds ticked off. With less than seven minutes remaining, Tampa led 27-19, just a few plays from moving to 2-0 on the season courtesy of an upset of the defending champs on the road. This was a statement about their aspirations and potential.
And then it was gone. First they gave up a Manning to Victor Cruz 80-yard touchdown pass. Then there was a 33-yard TD to Martellus Bennett. Then, after battling back to tie the score at 34, they allowed a four-play, 80-yard TD drive [featuring passes of 50 and 24 yards] to blow the game. It was too sudden. It was too easy.
Schiano couldn't accept the collapse without fighting until the end, couldn't stomach the sight of Manning casually taking a knee as all the players shook hands.
So he did what he did. Was it bush-league? Sure, there's a case for that. It was also a sign that he expects to build an entire team of similar competitors. Ones churning with anger like him. Ones who don't care much for etiquette when there are NFC doors to be kicked down.
Greg Schiano was hired to change the entire culture of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If he's going to fail at that, it won't be from nicely backing down from anyone, at any time.
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