Greg Schiano couldn't resist the challenge of trying to transform the Tampa Bay Buccaneers into winners.
The 45-year-old architect of a stunning college football turnaround at Rutgers was formally introduced Friday as the “right man” to the lead the NFL's youngest team to playoff contention — and beyond.
“I don't believe in doing anything except to be the best,” Schiano told a packed auditorium inside the team's posh headquarters and training facility. “We're going to try to be the best starting today. How long that's going to take, I can't tell you that. … But when our best is the best, we'll be Super Bowl champs.”
Schiano took over a struggling program at Rutgers and turned it into a Big East contender during an 11-year run with the Scarlet Knights.
The Bucs are banking on him to have the same kind of impact in Tampa Bay, which has not won a playoff game since winning it's only NFL title in 2002.
“He's a person who came into a program and built it from the ground up. … He went in there, rolled up his sleeves, cut no corners, did the hard work that was necessary to put it where it is today,” Bucs co-chairman Joel Glazer said.
“He has a vision for what he wants to do, how he wants to coach football,” Glazer added. “We spoke to a lot of people in football. The more people we spoke to, whether it be college or the pros or scouts, it was amazing the feedback you got.”
There have been numerous suitors for Schiano over the past decade, however he said none of the opportunities seemed right for him. That is until the Bucs called during a 24-day search that began when Raheem Morris was fired on Jan. 2.
The Glazer family, along with general manager Mark Dominik, convinced Schiano they share a common vision of what it will take to build a consistent winner.
“I've been in the NFL” as an assistant, Schiano said. “I've been a head coach for 11 years. I did not need to be a head coach in the National Football league today. … So I really studied the team, I studied the situation, I studied the ownership, I studied mark. That's what makes me comfortable” taking the job.
“There's been several opportunities to go to places that were quote, unquote bigger names or bigger programs,” the coach added. “And at times I listened. But when I tried to put myself there, it just didn't feel good. … This felt right.”
The Bucs have fielded the league's youngest team the past two years with dramatically different results. After going 10-6 and nearly earning a playoff berth in 2010, they slumped to 4-12 for this season, ending the 35-year-old Morris' run as the NFL's youngest head coach on a 10-game losing streak.
A porous defense allowed 31 of more points in seven of the team's last eight games and the offense sputtered, in part because of the inconsistent play of Josh Freeman, who threw took a step back in his development with a career-high 22 interceptions after throwing just six the previous season.
Schiano was one of at least 10 candidates the Glazer family interviewed during a 24-day search. Oregon coach Chip Kelly turned down the job earlier this week, leaving Schiano, former Green Bay Packers and Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman and Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski as finalists for the Tampa Bay opening.
“The more time we had a chance to spend with him, the more evident and clear it was that he was going to be the man to lead our football team going forward,” Dominik said.
In addition to getting Freeman back on track, Schiano faces the challenge of improving a defense that yielded a franchise-record 494 points while also ranking near the bottom of the NFL in sacks and yards allowed.
The Bucs used first- and second-round selections in each of the past two drafts to rebuild the defense line, yet still have not been able to generate a consistent pass rush.
Schiano was a defensive assistant in the NFL with the Chicago Bears for three seasons and was the University of Miami's defensive coordinator for two years before moving to Rutgers.
“You talk about how our team is going to look. … Our team will be built around a humble, unselfish, attitude and sacrifice,” Schiano said. “It's hard to find that in today's world. But that's who we'll be.”
This season revealed glaring weaknesses throughout the team. Still, Schiano likes the foundation that Dominik and Morris laid the past two years.
“It a young core of very talented guys. But until you actually coach them, how do you know how talented? I've watched video, I talked to people I know in the National Football League and I'm very impressed,” he said, adding that he's confident he'll be able to assemble a coaching staff that will help players grow.