The team Schiano inherited was a hapless, undisciplined bunch in the midst of a 10-game losing streak. Fan support was waning and he was tasked with turning around a franchise that had gone four consecutive seasons without a playoff berth, its longest such streak since the mid-90's.
At his introductory press conference, Schiano touched on the requisite topics: toughness, accountability, discipline, etc., going on to say that under his watch the Bucs would be built around "a humble, unselfish attitude of sacrifice."
Which begs the all important question: has Coach Schiano lived up to his promises in the first year of his reign?
One of the hallmarks of his press conference was the importance he placed into holding players and coaches accountable for their actions and performances. Before the season even kicked off fans saw three starters, Kellen Winslow, Tanard Jackson and Brian Price released or traded.
Winslow and Jackson had reportedly upset Schiano for not training in Tampa during the offseason, a sign the new head coach apparently saw as being uncommitted to the team. Price fell out of favor after reportedly striking rookie safety Mark Barron during a team meeting.
A few months later, starting cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Eric Wright were both suspended within weeks of each other for testing positive for PEDs.
When pressed about the long-term status of Talib, Schiano said the plan was to eventually bring him back into the fold, but he went on to say: "We are going to do what's best for the organization, so you've got to just trust us on this one." Talib never made it back to the team, as he was dealt to the Patriots for a fourth-round pick in April's draft.
Wright also appears to be on his way out, as due to his suspension the remaining guarantees in his contract have been voided, meaning the Bucs can cut him without having to pay a financial penalty, or "cap hit."
All told, Schiano has delivered on his pledge to hold players accountable. Grade: A
An argument could be had that discipline was the area most in need of improvement heading into the season, as the 2011 Bucs finished with a turnover ratio of -16, worst in the NFL. They also combined to commit 218 penalties for 1,787 yards.
The 2012 Bucs finished with a turnover ratio of plus-three and combined to commit 204 penalties for 1,670 yards.
The toughness aspect is a little harder to gauge.
However, signature moments including "kneel-gate" and Doug Martin's 251-yard, four touchdown game versus Oakland will serve as the "toughness" barometer.
Coupled with their improvement from having the 30th-ranked rush offense in 2011 (91.1 yards/game), to the 15th-ranked rushing offense in 2012 (114.8 yards/game). Not to mention their drastic worst-to-first improvement against the run, holding opponents to a league-best 82.5 yards per game in 2012 after allowing a league-worst 156.1 per game in 2011.
So, not only did the Bucs reduce turnovers, penalties and penalty yards, they also improved their offensive and defensive abilities for and against the rush. As such, it's hard to argue Schiano's message didn't sink in. Grade: B+
At the end of the day, we're all judged by what we do and don't accomplish. The NFL is certainly no different. To his credit, Schiano acknowledges as much, saying, "we didn't win the Super Bowl, and I'm very disappointed about that."
He went on to add, "Am I a silver lining guy? Yes. There were a lot of positives that give me motivation and encourages me...that, hey, there are brighter days ahead."
Offensively, the Bucs scored more points (389) than any team in franchise history. Quarterback Josh Freeman put together the single-greatest statistical season of any QB in franchise history. Rookie running back Doug Martin combined for nearly 2,000 total yards from scrimmage.
Defensively, however, the team fell short on several fronts. They allowed a league-worst 297.4 passing yards per game. They blew fourth quarter leads in four games and lost seven games by eight or fewer points.
At 7-9, the Bucs nearly doubled their win total from 2011, which bodes well as they head into the second season under his reign. As noted above, the Bucs were closer to a playoff berth than many expected at the beginning of the season.
But the numbers and results are what they are. Did the team improve under Schiano? By all measurable data, the answer is yes. They were a more competitive, better disciplined team than the season prior.
Sure they let a few games "get away" that cost them a shot at the postseason, but again, considering where they were just a little more than a year ago, it's hard to argue 2012 was a complete failure. Grade: C+
Overall first year grade: B