TAMPA, Fla. His team has only played two preseason games, but new Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano has already raised the caliber of play to championship levels at One Buc Place.
Of course, he pulled it off Wednesday morning with a little help from the New England Patriots and his longtime mentor, three-time Super Bowl winner Bill Belichick.
Schiano invited the elite NFL team and head coach to share practice sessions in advance of Friday nights exhibition game at Raymond James Stadium. And the two teams proceeded to work out individually and against each other Wednesday in the sweltering heat and humidity, with a return engagement scheduled for Thursday.
The workouts are closed to the public and the media is only allowed a 30-minute glimpse of the action. Still, it was a novel sight, with Pats franchise quarterback Tom Brady tossing passes on one field and the face of the Bucs, Josh Freeman, throwing to his receivers on an adjoining one before joint practice began.
Just as unusual was seeing New Englands heralded coach step to the podium, instead of Schiano, to address the media prior to the morning workout.
Belichick certainly knows how to attract a crowd. He looked out into the room, filled with a large combined group of Bucs and Patriots reporters, and was promptly flooded with questions ranging from his long-standing friendship with Schiano to his thoughts on building a team to his impressions of the Bucs headquarters.
Its great to be here in Tampa and work with Coach Greg Schiano and the Bucs, Belichick began. I think this will be a real productive couple days for us. We are going to improve our football team and work on some things against a different opponent. A good competition. It is a quick turnaround, but I know our guys are excited to be down here. I think we are going to get a lot out of this. Looking forward to it and have a good relationship with this organization. I think it will be mutually beneficial.
Its certainly no secret that Belichick had a hand in helping Schiano get the Bucs job. He provided a glowing recommendation to the Glazer Family that owns the club and general manager Mark Dominik while they evaluated the former Rutgers University head coach. Right out of the box, Belichick was asked about that relationship and his thoughts about Schiano.
Ive known Coach for a long time, he said. Ive gotten to know him better since he was at Rutgers. Of course we would go down and scout their players and work them out, that type of thing. We both have a defensive background, so I think we have a lot in common there. He has coached some of our players, going back to Vince (Wilfork) at Miami, so we have a long relationship.
My son went to Rutgers. I spent more time there watching him play lacrosse, but also being around Coach. He has come up to our practices and spoke to our team and observed us on the field and vice versa. It has been we have had a good relationship. I have a lot of respect for him. I think this is a great opportunity for him. I am sure he will do well.
Belichick took over the coaching reins of the Patriots in 2000, after Pete Carroll was fired following an 8-8 season. He finished 5-11 in his first year on the job, the only losing season he would experience with New England. One year later, he guided his team to a record of 11-5 and a victory in Super Bowl XXXVI over St. Louis. It was the start of a winning tradition that has elevated him to the elite of NFL head coaches, including wins in Super Bowls XXXVIII over Carolina and XXXIX against Philadelphia, with losses in two other Super Bowls to the New York Giants.
Given his overall won-loss record of 192-104-0, Belichick has a good sense of what it takes to build a winning program and the challenge Schiano faces.
It is a big process, he said in his trademark dry delivery. I dont think there is any one thing. There is no magic wand.
He paused, and it seemed as if that was all the master would offer. But then he continued at length.
When I came into New England, and Cleveland for that matter, the scouting department, the players, the personnel, the coaching staff, the support people, video, trainers, medical people, operations, to travel its all interconnected, he said. There is a program, the way you want to do things. Everybody has their own style and personal preferences, but it is all connected.
I think that it definitely takes a while to change that. Everybody needs to be able to do their job as it relates and coordinates with the entire team operation. Thats a lot of work. There is no one thing of 'We just got to do this.' There is a lot more to it than that. Certainly along the way I made my share of mistakes, and you try to learn from them and try not to repeat those.
Thats part of the process when you bring a lot of new people together and you change things in an organization. Inevitably, some people you bring in are going to work out. Some people you bring in are not going to work out. Some people are going to be better than what you had, but maybe not ultimately where you want that position to be, personnel wise. You upgrade it as you can. Its a process. Its hard. There is no one thing. I wish it were that easy.
Belichick stressed that he thinks Schiano has what it takes to build his own winning tradition with the Bucs.
I think the world of Greg, he said. I think hes a good coach. Hes got a good personality. He treats his players well. He is smart. He is tough. He did a great job with the Rutgers program without some of the opportunities that he was going against had. I thought he competed very well and had confidence against those teams. I have always been impressed in the way his teams performed. I dont have any problem saying that at all.
Schiano met with reporters following morning workouts and expressed enthusiasm about having Belichick and Co. on the premises, noting that it was exciting for his players to compete against the perennial AFC power and its heralded head coach.
There is no doubt they were excited to go against one of the best football teams in this league, he said. If not the best. Any time you get a guy like Tom Brady out there, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, whos going up and down the field, its great for our defense. When you got to block a guy like Vince Wilfork (and) when he is on your nose, its great for our offense. Just situational stuff. To be able to do it. It was good.
Schiano and Belichick have each participated in joint practices over the years (Schiano when he was an assistant with the Bears), and both see value in it.
No. 1, you do get into a little bit of a low there with camp going on and on, so this is certainly something that excites the players, he said. Heck, it excites me. You get a championship organization to come down and practice against. You get to watch as you are doing it. You get to watch how they do things. It was really a good. I think there are a lot of good reasons to do it.
And did Schiano learn anything from sharing the practice field Wednesday?
I did. I always do, he said. There were some football things that I really liked and I enjoyed watching Tom Brady, the way he handles himself in the huddle. Even when you play him you dont get to see that. When youre standing out on the field and you hear the way he handles his huddle, thats good stuff.
The stuff of championships Schiano and the Bucs hope one day to replicate.