TAMPA, Fla. -- The two coaches who stood at the podium in the media room at One Buccaneer Place on Wednesday sounded almost exactly alike.
They spewed the usual clichés coaches say this time of year, about how they’re working to get their teams ready for the regular season. They were equally vague about injuries, personnel and their plans for Friday night’s preseason game.
But there’s one big difference between Bill Belichick and Greg Schiano -- 175 regular-season wins in the National Football League.
“I’d be foolish not to learn from Coach Belichick today, and I did," said Schiano, who has taken over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after running the program at Rutgers since 2001.
That came after Schiano put his Bucs through a joint workout with Belichick’s New England Patriots. They’ll do it again Thursday and they’ll play each other Friday night at Raymond James Stadium.
Belichick probably is on his way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Schiano is a rookie NFL head coach. But there already is a lot of familiarity between the two, and that should come as some comfort to Tampa Bay fans who are worried about having a head coach whose only NFL experience was as an assistant with the Chicago Bears for three seasons in the 1990s.
“I’m sure he’ll do well," Belichick said of Schiano.
That’s a nice endorsement of Schiano by perhaps the greatest coach of this era. But the endorsement Belichick gave Schiano back in January likely was more grandiose.
Team officials have said they spoke to Belichick about Schiano when they were looking for a coach to replace Raheem Morris, and the message carried plenty of weight. Belichick wouldn’t go into specific detail about what he told the Glazer family, who owns the Bucs, and general manager Mark Dominik about Schiano.
“All I can do is just be honest," Belichick said Wednesday . “I think the world of Greg. I think he’s a good coach. He’s got a good personality, he treats his players well, he’s smart, he’s tough. He did a great job with the Rutgers program without some of the opportunities that some other programs that he was going against had. But he competed really well in that conference and against those teams. I’ve always been impressed with the way his teams performed. I have no problem saying that at all."
The relationship between the two isn’t the casual one that many NFL and college coaches share. Belichick’s son, Steven, was the long-snapper on Schiano’s final team at Rutgers. Even before that, the two had a bond, and Schiano sometimes went to New England to observe practices.
In his brief time in Tampa Bay, Schiano frequently has mentioned Belichick as one of the coaches he admires most and tries to pattern himself after.
“[Belichick] has a way of simplifying things," Schiano said. “I’ll hear some coaches do a three-page essay on how to handle a situation. Bill will say it in a sentence. That to me is being so familiar and the experience that he has that he’s able to see it clearly. Any good leader can do that, take the stuff that’s all over the place and bring it right to here."
Schiano already has mastered the art of getting straight to the point. His session with the media lasted 8 minutes, 36 seconds (according to my recorder). Belichick’s lasted nearly 17 minutes. But coaching is about a lot more than dealing with the media.
Some college coaches (Jim Harbaugh) have experienced success in making the jump to the NFL. Others (Bobby Petrino and Nick Saban) have not. Belichick said he doesn’t think Schiano will have trouble with the adjustment.
“I think he’s a very experienced guy," Belichick said. “He’s won a lot of games, he’s coached a lot of players. He’s coached NFL players, they just were in college, that’s all. The Vince Wilforks, the Devin McCourtys, all the guys that he’s coached, they’re NFL players, they just weren’t in the NFL yet. And he’s coached in the NFL. So he knows what he’s doing. He’ll be fine.”
It sounds easy, but Schiano is taking over a team that went 4-12 and lost its final 10 games last season.
“Well, it’s a big process," Belichick said when asked what it's like to take over a team. “I don’t think there’s any one thing. There’s no magic wand. It’s pretty much everything."
When you reflect on Belichick’s career, it hasn’t been as smooth as you might think. His first stint as a head coach was in Cleveland from 1991-95. His teams went 36-44, and the franchise moved to Baltimore immediately after Belichick’s final season. Even in New England, the Patriots went 5-11 in Belichick’s first season (2000).
But 10 straight winning seasons -- and those three Super Bowl titles -- followed.
Belichick obviously has evolved over time and he often has talked about learning from his mistakes in the early years. I’m sure Schiano has asked him about some of those lessons.
It’s true that there is no magic wand, but maybe having Belichick as his mentor can make the process a little easier for Schiano.