Whenever the Tampa Bay Buccaneers decide to fire head coach Greg Schiano, we won't look back at his team's winless start or the backlash among local fans as the deciding factor.
It ultimately will be three seemingly innocent words uttered by cornerback Darrelle Revis that will be his undoing, words that recently were offered when a local reporter asked Revis if the players still supported their head coach. When Revis said, "I don't know," he created an awkward vibe that will reverberate throughout that franchise for weeks to come. He also confirmed what most people have been thinking: Schiano was never the right man for this job.
It's one thing for the Bucs to be 0-7 at this point, especially when three of those defeats were the result of late-game meltdowns. The feud that led to Tampa's releasing former franchise quarterback Josh Freeman on Oct. 3 is more evidence of how badly Schiano has steered this ship since his arrival last year.
But when a respected veteran -- the same Pro Bowl cornerback who was supposed to be a cornerstone of what Schiano hoped to build in Tampa -- refuses to take a definitive stance on his coach's leadership, that's when a franchise has to rethink everything it's trying to do. If Revis felt comfortable answering that question that way, then there surely are more Bucs who wish they had the clout to be so honest.
None of which should be surprising. One former Bucs player -- Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett -- recently bashed Schiano publicly, telling NFL Network that playing for the coach was "like being in Cuba." Even with a few notable veterans coming forward on Schiano's behalf -- players such as safety Dashon Goldson and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy have said the coach hasn't lost the locker room -- there is still a palpable feeling of discontent around that franchise. It once was easy to write off such disillusionment by saying ex-players tend to have built-in biases against coaches as abrasive as Schiano. But when it comes from in-house sources, especially players as media-savvy as Revis, then it's time for the Bucs to brace for all hell to break loose.
It was only a matter of time before somebody on that team said something as candid as Revis did. Freeman actually could have done it if he weren't such a nice guy. A source close to the situation said Freeman had legitimate reasons to bash Schiano on his way out of the organization, and yet he chose to be diplomatic in his exit. The most explosive comment Freeman made was delivered to ESPN's Josina Anderson, when the quarterback said a trade would the "best option" for him.
Freeman could have gone into more details that the source says happened behind the scenes. Those include: (1) Schiano's openly suspecting him of having a drug problem; (2) Schiano's deactivating Freeman before a Week 4 loss to Arizona -- after rookie Mike Glennon had been promoted to the starting job -- and then sending a security guard to Freeman's personal suite just minutes before kickoff to make sure the quarterback watched the game from a different suite with other inactive players; and (3) Schiano's telling Freeman to leave a team meeting to meet with Bucs general manager Mark Dominik, who promptly told Freeman that Schiano didn't want Freeman in the meeting. That incident became national news when teammates wondered why Freeman didn't join them for that session.
Of course, the most damaging incident for Freeman, who now plays in Minnesota, was the release of information that he was in the NFL's drug program. Freeman later clarified that he is in a voluntary portion of the program because of medication he takes for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, known as ADHD. Schiano strongly declared his innocence in that leak, but it's hard to sell Freeman's people on the possibility that the coach didn't play some role in that move. By that point, Schiano already looked like a man who was doing everything possible to discredit his starting quarterback. If Schiano was still at Rutgers, where he built his reputation, this approach would've been known as running a player out of his program.
The problem Schiano created with his battle with Freeman was one of perception. There's little doubt that Freeman needed to improve his play; he was throwing too many interceptions and struggling with his completion percentage. But the notion that he was a bad person, a potential locker room cancer or simply a discipline problem doesn't hold weight. Buccaneers offensive tackle Donald Penn spoke up for Freeman, telling SiriusXM NFL radio, "It's like they're really trying to bring him down."
Penn was the first Bucs player to take issue with Schiano's tactics, and Revis simply took it a step further. NFL players are smart enough to know when it's time to step off a sinking ship and Schiano's has been taking on water for most of the past 12 months. The more he loses, the less the players will believe in him. And the closer we get to the end of the season, the more likely they are to tune him out altogether, knowing full well that Schiano's chances of returning for another season will be dim at best.
That's basically what Revis told us with that comment. He could have said the team is still behind Schiano. He could have dismissed the question as unfair or ill-timed or whatever excuse experienced players offer in such delicate situations. Revis even could have taken the time to explain himself a day later, as he did earlier this year after calling a private meeting with Schiano that some saw as the first real indication that Revis was unhappy with the coach. Instead, Revis chose candor.
There's no way the Bucs' co-chairmen -- Joel, Bryan and Edward Glazer -- could have heard that statement and blown it off. They already knew this team had too much talent to be winless at this stage of the season. They also had to be wondering what it would take for a change of fortune. They chose Schiano because he was known as a tough guy with an ability to make winners out of losers. They believed he was capable of taking a young, promising team and pushing it to the next level.
Now, all the Bucs' ownership can see is a billboard calling for Schiano's dismissal and a fan base that is sick of watching weekly defeats. The Glazers might have been able to blow that off as typical impatience or even buy into Schiano's belief that the Bucs will improve eventually. But none of that seems possible after Revis opened his mouth after the team's loss to Carolina. All he did was remind this franchise of how far it has fallen under Schiano and how impossible it is to believe he's the answer for their problems moving forward.