TAMPA, Fla. -- The show on the stage was impressive on every level.
The moment Greg Schiano started talking, you got the sense the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had more order, direction and control than at any point in the past three years. Schiano said all the right things and said them the right way. I’ve seen some introductory speeches for coaches through the years.
I’ve seen Sam Wyche trying to play cheerleader on the back of a flat-bed truck outside the old Tampa Stadium, Tony Dungy very dryly talking about what he’d bring to the Bucs (before any of us realized the depth of the man) and John Fox trying way too hard, and not really succeeding, to instantly win over the Carolina fans and media.
Schiano did none of that. He just let it flow naturally and everything he said was perfect.
But the most impressive show I saw was taking place about 30 yards away from where Schiano stood. That’s where a young man sat silently. He sat completely upright and seemed to be listening intently to everything his new coach said.
That man was Josh Freeman. There’s little doubt Schiano’s hiring will be a big point in Buccaneers’ history -- for better or worse. Schiano’s got a huge job ahead of him and he might have the skills to succeed.
But Freeman is still the most important person in One Buccaneer Place. He is the quarterback. He now is Schiano’s quarterback. If things are going to turn around for the Buccaneers after a disastrous 4-12 final season by Raheem Morris, Freeman might have to play an even bigger role than Schiano.
Freeman is an enormous talent with all sorts of leadership intangibles. The only problem is Morris, his staff and Freeman’s supporting cast came dangerously close to ruining him last season. Freeman threw 22 interceptions last season, after throwing only six in a very promising 2010 campaign.
This kid is too good a talent and a person to ruin. If Schiano is going to succeed, he needs to get Freeman back on track.
Perhaps the best news of the day was that the quarterback and the coach already are on the same page. Freeman was in Kansas City on Thursday when he got the call from general manager Mark Dominik, alerting him that Schiano had been hired.
Freeman did exactly what you would expect a good leader to do. He went and bought a plane ticket to Tampa. In Freeman’s eyes, he had to be there.
“First day, first press conference and I really wanted the opportunity to meet coach Schiano and show him that I’m here and I’m ready to go,’’ Freeman said.
The coach and the quarterback met before the news conference. Freeman, who publicly supported Morris to the bitter end, came away impressed.
“I love his direction,’’ Freeman said. “He’s a very passionate coach and I’m really excited to have the opportunity to play for him.’’
As he introduced Schiano, Dominik used words like “structured," “organized" and “disciplined." As he spoke about himself, Schiano revealed one of his main mottos “Trust, belief and accountability’’.
As Schiano went on about his “TBA" formula, I took a look back over my shoulder at Freeman. There seemed to be a gleam in his eyes, even more of a gleam than when Schiano mentioned that his offensive philosophy includes taking shots down field.
Every quarterback wants to hear a coach say he wants to take shots down field. But more than getting to throw some deep passes, I think Freeman needs, and wants, the “TBA’’.
Freeman was a leader for the Bucs in 2010. He was a leader as he organized offseason workouts last spring and summer during the lockout. He went into last season as a leader. I don’t think Freeman ever stopped trying to be that leader.
I think he simply got dragged down by the total lack of leadership and direction from the previous coaching staff. A lot of players ran wild and there was no accountability and not nearly enough leadership from other corners of the locker room. The Bucs were a ship out of control.
There’s no question the Bucs need control and discipline.
“There is going to be a Buccaneer way and they are going to be Buccaneer men,’’ Schiano said.
Schiano’s going to run things a lot different than Morris. That’s a good thing for Freeman, who is a guy that believes in structure and order. He’ll get that now and he might even get some improvements in his supporting cast.
The Bucs now have a coach that just might put them in a position where they have a chance to succeed. More importantly, they’ve got a leader who is totally on the same page as the coach and that could take them a long way.
“That’s the only way to have success in this league is to have people buying in with the trust, belief and accountability,’’ Freeman said. “There’s really no other way. Everybody’s got to be full tilt from Day One. The direction Coach Schiano s going to take this team in is going to be great and it’s exciting.’’