TAMPA, Fla. – The Buccaneers are counting on Greg Schiano to lead them back to respectability and transform Tampa Bay into consistent winners — much in the same way he made Rutgers matter again.
The 45-year-old former Scarlet Knights coach was hired Thursday, more than three weeks after the Bucs fired Raheem Morris following a 4-12 finish.
The team scheduled a press conference for Friday to introduce Schiano, who inherits a team that allowed the most points in the NFL this season.
“Coach Schiano is a bright, meticulous teacher who knows how to get the most out of his players,” general manager Mark Dominik said. “He built and ran a pro-style program at Rutgers, and he’s a defensive-minded coach whose teams have always been characterized by toughness and a physical style of play.”
Schiano was at Rutgers for 11 seasons, taking them from college football laughingstocks to a program that has had winning records in six of the last seven years. He was an assistant coach in the NFL with Chicago from 1996-98.
The Scarlet Knights appointed offensive line coach Kyle Flood as interim head coach while the school searches for Schiano’s replacement.
The Bucs fired Morris on Jan. 2 after Tampa Bay lost 10 straight to end the season, most of them by double-digit margins. The collapse following a promising 4-2 start came only a year after the NFL’s youngest team went 10-6 and narrowly missed the playoffs.
The Glazer family that owns the team interviewed at least 10 candidates for the opening, including Oregon’s Chip Kelly, who was offered the position before turning it down earlier this week.
The Bucs also talked to former NFL head coaches Mike Sherman, Brad Childress and Marty Schottenheimer; Carolina Panthers offensive co-ordinator Rob Chudzinski; Tennessee Titans defensive co-ordinator Jerry Gray; Cincinnati Bengals defensive co-ordinator Mike Zimmer; Green Bay quarterbacks coach Tom Clements and former Packers offensive co-ordinator Joe Philbin, who accepted the head coaching opening with the Miami Dolphins.
An 11th known candidate, ex-Dallas Cowboys coach and current Houston defensive co-ordinator Wade Phillips, cancelled a scheduled interview with the Bucs that would have taken place while the Texans were in the playoffs.
Bucs co-chairman Joel Glazer said the club was thrilled to entrust the team’s rebuilding project to Schiano.
“During our thorough search, we met with numerous impressive candidates, but coach Schiano surely distinguished himself,” Glazer said. “From his leadership skills to his considerable track record, he is, simply put, the right man for the job.”
It’s not the first exhaustive search the Glazers have conducted for a coach.
The Bucs pursued Steve Spurrier before hiring Tony Dungy in 1996, then tried to lure Bill Parcells and Steve Mariucci to Tampa Bay before trading two first-round draft picks, as well as a pair of second-rounders and $8 million cash to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for the opportunity to negotiate a contract with Jon Gruden after the 2001 season.
Gruden led the Bucs to their only Super Bowl title the following season, but Tampa Bay hasn’t won a playoff game since. The Glazers fired him three weeks after the Bucs lost the final four games of 2008 to miss the playoffs, and promoted Morris as his successor.
Tampa Bay went 17-31 under Morris, who served as his own defensive co-ordinator. The Bucs allowed a franchise-record 494 points in 2011, including 31 of more in seven of the last eight games.
In addition to fixing a defence that’s been rebuilt over the past two drafts, getting young quarterback Josh Freeman back on track will be a priority this off-season.
Freeman threw for 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions in 2010, his second year in the league and his first as a full-time starter. The 24-year-old passed for 16 TDs vs. 22 interceptions this season.
The timing of the move could put Rutgers in a bind with national signing day less than a week away. This is a pivotal time in the recruiting process, with coaches locking up commitments from high school prospects who make those agreements official by signing national letters of intent starting Wednesday.
Schiano’s contract with Rutgers runs through 2016 and pays him around $2.35 million per year.
He played linebacker at Bucknell, but never in the NFL. His first big break in coaching came at Penn State, where Joe Paterno hired him to coach defensive backs in 1991. He was at Penn State through 1995, before being hired by the Bears.
Because of his success at Rutgers, there had often been speculation for years about Schiano possibly replacing Paterno when the Hall of Famer was done coaching. But when Penn State was looking for a replacement after firing Paterno amid a child sex-abuse scandal involving one of his former longtime assistants, the school hired Patriots offensive co-ordinator Bill O’Brien.
Schiano has been courted by several other colleges during his time at Rutgers, most notably Miami in 2006 and Michigan in 2007.
“I’ve had several opportunities over the years and none of them felt right,” Schiano told The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., as he left Rutgers’ football facility Thursday night “This time, this one felt right.”
Schiano’s first four seasons at Rutgers produced losing seasons, but the program he took over was practically at rock bottom in major college football. Before he was hired, the Scarlet Knights played in only one bowl game in their history.
Schiano brought structure and discipline to a program that sorely lacked both on every level. Not only has Rutgers become a consistent winner in the Big East, but the Scarlet Knights have regularly been among the top teams in the country when it comes to graduating players. He also encouraged the school to secure funding for multimillion dollar upgrades to Rutgers’ facilities, including a major stadium renovation.
In 2005, Rutgers went 7-5 and the next season the Scarlet Knights were 11-2. They played in six bowls under Schiano, winning five, including a victory over Iowa state in the Pinstripe Bowl to cap a 9-4 season in 2011.
AP College Football Writer Ralph Russo in New York contributed to this report.