John Wooden—the famous former UCLA basketball coach who won a record 10 NCAA basketball championships—made this and many other quotes famous: “The best competition I have is against myself to become better.”
For that reason, coaches have followed Wooden’s advice on how to put a team together for decades. They approach their team first and always want to make their team the best they are able to be. Sometimes this even leads some coaches to forget they must adjust based on their competition.
The Saints believe their greatest competition is themselves. You can tell based on the offensive playcalling, which rarely changes. At times the team is predictable, but since they execute better than anyone it’s hard to imagine this ever being a significant issue under Sean Payton.
With all that said, there’s little doubt that familiarity with teams in the same division is of great importance in the NFL. The simple fact each team plays each other twice a season means division opponents must be studied year in and year out to a greater degree than say a team from the AFC, or a bottom rung team from one of the other NFC divisions.
To that end, Greg Schiano joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as head coach is a huge development within the 2012 NFL offseason. As Bucs’ GM Mark Dominik said earlier Thursday, “Coach Schiano is a bright, meticulous teacher who knows how to get the most out of his players.”
While Schiano may be extremely limited in terms of NFL experience, he’s been a college head coach for 10 whole seasons—having built Rutgers into a consistent Big East contender and getting them to a No. 2 national ranking back in 2006. Former Rutgers running back Ray Rice—Schiano’s best player on that squad—had this to say via Twitter about Schiano leaving for Tampa: “The Bucs are getting a great man and a great coach.”
Of course, Rice is a free agent this offseason, and rumors are about to begin about his future possibly being linked to Tampa Bay—a team in desperate need at the running back position. If Rice were to join forces with his college coach, the NFC South would have three of the finest running backs in all of football—Michael Turner and the two-headed monster DeJonathan Willart (DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart) the others.
In the Bucs' hopes to dethrone the Saints and Falcons atop the NFC South, they must rely on a strong running game and good defense. For this reason, the Saints must continue to make strides towards improving its run defense.
That is just one possible benefit to the Bucs’ hire of Schiano. Even more importantly, Schiano is going to bring some of that New Jersey toughness with him to Tampa—an organization that is struggling with its youth similar to the Detroit Lions; only this team has yet to reach the postseason with their young squad.
And not only will he bring toughness, he’ll also bring a solid defense and an offense that knows how to win. With Josh Freeman, Schiano will have one thing he never had at Rutgers—a quarterback completely capable of winning games all on his own.
Combined with a great defense and a tough-minded attitude, it seems likely Tampa Bay will be much improved from a season ago—a year the team finished with a 10-game losing streak and a 4-12 record.
It isn’t too much to expect that Tampa Bay will come back to the mean, closer to 8-8 in Year 1 under Schiano—if for no other reason than the talent the team possesses and a little luck. Even more likely is that this team will be extremely competitive in the NFC South unlike a season ago—a year in which they went 1-5.
Schiano is a smart guy who will point to that one win being against the division’s best team as a catalyst for the young, but talented team to build upon when NFC South play starts next year.
For that reason, Tampa figures to be a team who will combine power with speed, toughness with intelligence and discipline, and talent with great schemes. And the result is most likely to make the Bucs a team the NFC South must be fearful of for years to come.