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Martin Fennelly Columns

Fennelly: Bucs' Schiano embracing The Big If

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Published:   |   Updated: September 4, 2013 at 09:48 AM

TAMPA — Greg Schiano stood in the hall at Bucs headquarters and discussed the new season, his second as an NFL coach.

“The talent level, I like the talent level,” Schiano said. “The issue is that it's in all different levels of recuperation. Players are not back to where they need to be. Without a doubt, we're going to be one of those teams that, if things keep getting better ... That's not a small 'if,' right?”

Where does the coach fit in?

“If I think I'm an 'If,' then we're in big trouble,” Schiano said with a smile. “I'm not an 'If.' Other people might think that, and that's their opinion. If I think it, then believe me, we've got big problems, absolutely. Anything else, I better hand in my keys, right?”

He'd better win just the same.

The Schiano Way has become the Bucs way. Culture changed — check. Micromanagement in place — check. It began with the first toes on the line. There were Schiano rules everywhere. Grown men sometimes felt like school kids. Change was rammed down throats, and if the throats didn't like it, they'd be gone, eventually. More and more, more than back then, it's Schiano's 53.

Well, it's time to win.

That's the only way the Schiano Way can sustain itself.

He's in his second year, coming off 7-9. He has a quarterback, currently a quivering bowl of jelly (partly Schiano's doing) who nonetheless threw for 4,000 yards last season. He has a runner who was a rookie sensation. He has at least one Pro Bowl offensive guard standing. He has a top receiver. He has a star safety from an NFC champion and maybe the best cornerback in football. Ownership has brought in more than a quarter-billion dollars (not all guaranteed, but you get the idea) of talent over the past two seasons.

Greg Schiano needs to win.

He accepts it. That's the NFL. He says he learned his share of lessons in 2012.

Now what?

The Bucs were 6-4 at one point in 2012, but sputtered after that. It led to the idea that the coach had worn his men down and out.

“I didn't push too hard,” Schiano said. “That, I'm sure of, even though it's a popular sentiment.”

There is talk that he has softened his approach. If anything has changed, Schiano said, it's that the men around him have a year under him.

“I think the guys understand what our expectations are,” Schiano said. “Because they understand I don't have to be such a raving lunatic to make sure we're doing things the right way. I think our leadership has really stepped up.

“In certain areas, I don't have to be so thumb-on-them. Things that they now understand, they take care of (themselves), I don't have to have people checking on them.

“What you're talking about is what some people thought was over the top, checking in at meals, why do we have to do that? Well, until we get compliance. There's no improvement without measurement, until you feel comfortable that it's getting done.”

Excuse me while I picture Ronde Barber checking in at meals ...

Can Greg Schiano really change?

Guess what?

He won't have to if he wins.

There's that word again: if.

I still wonder about Schiano as a game coach and as a clock manager and a quarterback calmer (oh, yeah). That jury is still way, way out. The man restored order where there had been none, no small thing, but hands-on, his fingerprints everywhere, all those rules, won't matter, and people eventually won't listen ... unless he wins.

Winning is what everyone understands.

It's what makes a Bill Belichick tolerable.

The Schiano Way is the Bucs way. Players accept it. But there's a difference between acceptance and really buying in, between acceptance and complete trust. That's what this season is about. And nothing buys trust from players, nothing makes guys buy in like winning.

Greg Schiano isn't an If — if he wins.

It's that or keep those keys handy.

Them's the rules.

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