Friday, January 3, 2014

The Search for the Waterline

Now those memories come back to haunt me
they haunt me like a curse
Is a dream a lie if it don't come true
Or is it something worse....
-Bruce Springsteen

It was less than two years ago that Greg Schiano - to the surprise of many - left his position as the head football coach at Rutgers University to accept the position as the head football coach of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  Schiano is a Jersey Guy, born and bred and his exit from RU was greeted in some corners - including corners in which many lurked who had done nothing but bitch and moan about the stagnation of his program - as a betrayal.   Why anyone ever begrudges another's decision to do something that he or she does for their own betterment and for the betterment of their family never ceases to amaze me.  He was presented with the opportunity to do a job that is never occupied by more than thirty-two people at one time:  NFL Head Coach - and he accepted it.  'Nuff said. 

This past Monday, upon the completion of a regular season that saw his Buccaneers lose their first eight games and ultimately lose twelve of the sixteen games they played, Greg Schiano was fired.  The Glazer family, which owns the team, fired their coach and the team's General Manager as well.  In his two seasons running an NFL team, Coach Schiano won eleven games and lost twenty-one.  A .333 average just might earn you a spot in Cooperstown at the end of your baseball career but a .333 winning percentage as a head coach in the NFL will likely earn you a spot on the unemployment line.  And it did.  

Predictably, a number of the small-minded rubes who assailed Schiano on his way out the door in Piscataway two Januarys ago greeted news of his firing with glee - as if it vindicated them and all they had said about them.  It did no such thing of course but in the mind of the ignorant bliss is quite easily found - including in the misery (perceived or otherwise) of others.  

Those who expected the old ball coach to make an excuse or to offer an alibi upon being informed by his employer that his services were no longer required were, of course, disappointed.  In his comments to the media on Monday, Coach Schiano said simply, "We didn't get it done.  I accept full responsibility for that. I'm the head football coach, and that didn't work. Having said that, I'm really proud of our coaches and players for the way that they hung together, fought through adversity.  Adversity, there was plenty of. Never was there any finger pointing or that stuff that goes along with it. I'm proud of that."

I must confess that I have had - and likely shall always have - a strong pro-Schiano bias.  Rutgers was a dreadful football team year in and year out when he accepted the position there after the 2000 season and by the time he departed - following the 2011 season - he had built a consistently competitive, representative team.  Did RU ever come close to repeating its magical 2006 season on his watch?  Nope.  But other than the 4-8 record in 2010, the season in which Eric LeGrand suffered his spinal cord injury against Army, every season from 2007 through 2011 ended with a trip to a bowl game....and a bowl victory.  RU had never won a bowl game prior to his arrival on the Banks of the Rar-i-tan.  In the two seasons since he left for the NFL, they have not won one either.  In eleven seasons at RU, his teams earned six bowl invitations and won five of the six bowls in which they played, winning their final five appearances. 

For me, the lasting memory I have of Greg Schiano at Rutgers is not of him prowling the sidelines on a home football Saturday.  It is of him greeting participants at a 5K race held at RU on a September Sunday morning.  It was a fundraiser for cancer research and Coach Schiano had been advertised as the "Starter".  Rutgers played at Florida International the night before and when I went to sleep - shortly before midnight - the game was still going on.  I remember thinking that Coach Schiano was the one person I did not expect to see outside the RAC the following morning.  Yet there he was, bright-eyed and energized.  He stood on the back of a pickup truck and gave an impromptu pep talk to those of us gathered to run, thanking us all for giving our time to help RU raise money for such a worthy cause and for our support of the university.  He then led us up to the starting line and fulfilled his duties as the official starter, high-fiving people as they ran past him.   He made quite an impression upon me that morning.  Quite an impression. 

I know not what the future holds for him.  Clearly, having been terminated only two years into a five-year contract that paid him $3 Million a year, he has no burning financial need to find another position with $9 Million more Glazer dollars coming his way.  However, given that coaching is what he does and given that he is a young man, I would reasonably expect that he will not be content to sit home for three years doing nothing.  

His jaw is square but as he demonstrated repeatedly while at RU and again on Monday, its composition does not include any glass.  He can take a hit.  I suspect that he will again have the chance to do so somewhere, someplace down the line although I also suspect that it may take a little while before he does.... 

....even the toughest among us need a little time to catch our breath and to bounce back after a dream dies.    



-AK
 


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