It's not exactly unheard of for players and coaches to not get along in the NFL.
However, rarely has a relationship between a coach and player disintegrated so completely and spectacularly as the falling out between quarterback Josh Freeman and head coach Greg Schiano in Tampa Bay.
Freeman, a player who, not too long ago, was viewed as the future under center for the Buccaneers, has been benched, his time with the team all but certainly finished.
Schiano is under fire in his second season in Tampa, the target of scorn from the fans and media alike:
Mind you, this was a team that many folks considered a dark-horse playoff contender. Now the Buccaneers sit at 0-4 headed into their bye week, and there's a very real chance that both quarterback and coach will be gone by midseason.
This free fall has left reeling supporters of the team wondering: How did things go so wrong so quickly?
Well, to answer that question, we need to start at the beginning.
Freeman Arrives in Tampa Bay
After a standout collegiate career with the Kansas State Wildcats, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made Freeman the 17th pick of the first round of the 2009 NFL draft. It was the beginning of a new era in Tampa, as Super Bowl-winning coach Jon Gruden had been let go during the offseason.
Things hardly went as planned, with new head coach Raheem Morris losing his first seven games. By the bye week, Morris decided the future was now, and Freeman made his first career start for the Buccaneers against the Green Bay Packers.
In that game, Freeman threw three touchdown passes, guiding Tampa Bay to their first win of the season. Granted, the 2009 Buccaneers only won three games, but Freeman played well enough to give fans of the team some hope for the future.
Rise and (Free)Fall
During the 2010 season, it appeared those hopes would be realized.
Freeman played lights-out football in his sophomore season in the NFL. He completed well over 60 percent of his passes, threw 25 touchdown passes against only six interceptions and posted a passer rating of over 95.
Those stats were all the more remarkable, given the relative lack of offensive talent around Freeman that year. No receiver topped 1,000 yards or had over 70 catches for the Buccaneers in 2010, and running back LeGarrette Blount barely cleared 1,000 yards on the ground.
The Buccaneers were shut out of the playoffs, despite a 10-6 record, but Freeman earned a trip to the Pro Bowl for his efforts.
The sky appeared to be the limit.
It fell in the next year.
Freeman would throw for more yardage in 2011 and completed a higher percentage of his passes. However, his touchdown passes were down, and his interceptions skyrocketed from six to 22.
Tampa's record fell to 4-12, Morris was fired, and just like that, Freeman's NFL career was at a crossroads.
Enter Greg Schiano
On January 26, 2012, the Buccaneers hired Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano as their head coach.
At first, as Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times reported at the time, quarterback and coach appeared to be getting along swimmingly.
Schiano told Auman that "I'm excited to have Josh here," and Freeman said of his new coach, ""I love his direction. He's a very passionate coach."
The good feelings appeared to continue into the season.
Over the first half of the 2012 campaign, Freeman looked to be well on his way to recapturing his 2010 form, throwing 16 touchdown passes and only five interceptions. The Buccaneers went 4-4 over that stretch, leaving the team in the thick of the postseason hunt.
Freeman then fell apart down the stretch, throwing 11 touchdown passes and 12 picks the rest of the way. Freeman topped 4,000 passing yards for the first time in his career, but the 7-9 Buccaneers again missed the playoffs.
The season ended with Schiano telling Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times, "I have to evaluate everything before I can say that’s what we’re doing."
Storm Clouds Gather
2013 shaped up as a make-or-break season for Freeman for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that it was the last year of his rookie contract.
The year began with Schiano sticking behind Freeman, at least publicly. In February, Schiano told reporters at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, per Marc Sessler of NFL.com, that "Josh Freeman is our quarterback, and I believe that Josh Freeman -- with Josh Freeman -- we'll be able to accomplish our goals."
However, privately it was another story, or so it seemed. In April, Stephen Holder of the Tampa Bay Times reported that "just about everyone at One Buc Place seems on-board with Freeman except for one person."
That person, according to Holder, was Greg Schiano.
When the Buccaneers drafted North Carolina State's Mike Glennon in the third round of April's NFL draft, some pundits theorized that Schiano might be ready to make a switch.
Schiano insisted that Freeman was still the starter in May, according to the Associated Press via ESPN:
We have our starting quarterback. It's Josh Freeman. I'm not looking to find a new one, but I do like to have quality depth at every position. When you get that, just naturally these are the most competitive guys on the planet, and it raises everybody's level.
But the rumbles continued to grow. Pete Prisco of CBS Sports reported (also in May) that a source told him, "He [Schiano] wants a guy who is going to get in guys faces when they make mistakes. The fiery, take-charge guy."
The belief was that Freeman's laid-back style was rubbing Schiano the wrong way, and that the schism between player and coach was growing.
Things Unravel Quickly
Once the 2013 season started, everything fell apart.
Freeman struggled badly out of the gate. Before the season-opening loss to the New York Jets, the team held a players-only meeting. As Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reported, one of the topics was the vote that ended with Freeman not being named a captain for the first time in three years.
The legitimacy of the vote was called into question, with the insinuation being that Schiano had doctored the vote in order to strip Freeman of his captaincy.
Then a report by Ira Kaufman and Roy Cummings of the Tampa Tribune surfaced that Freeman had been late for the team's photo and other functions, angering his head coach.
In Kaufman's opinion, things had reached the breaking point:
That big game didn't come, and prior to Tampa's Week 4 matchup with the Arizona Cardinals, the hammer came down:
From there, believe it or not, things only got worse.
From Good, To Bad, To Ugly
Not surprisingly, Freeman, who was inactive for the loss to Arizona, asked to be traded.
Ed Werder of ESPN reported that Tampa contacted "about a dozen teams" about a deal for Freeman:
However, with Freeman in the last year of a contract that will pay him over $8 million, there were no takers.
Meanwhile, things in Tampa completely disintegrated.
Somehow, word was leaked to ESPN's Chris Mortensen that Freeman is in stage one of the NFL's drug program.
This spurred a statement from Freeman clarifying that his positive test was due to a mix-up in his ADHD medication.
As Chris Korman of USA Today reports, Freeman also blasted the Tampa Bay organization for leaking the information:
Unfortunately, it appears that some people who may have noticed the testing at my workplace have made hurtful and incorrect assumptions and chosen to disseminate inaccurate and very disturbing information.
It is a shame that when times have gotten tough, people have chosen to attack the character of others, rather than supporting each other. I remain dedicated and focused to being the best quarterback I can be and to help a team win a championship.
The NFLPA is now investigating who leaked Freeman's status, and Schiano has stated that he was "absolutely not" Mortensen's source, according to Lindsay Jones of USA Today.
"I know what I've done, and I'm 100% comfortable with my behavior," Schiano said.
And so here we sit, with Freeman persona non grata at One Buc Place:
What a mess.
So What's Next?
There aren't any winners in this situation.
Freeman isn't without blame. The simple fact is, all this could have been avoided had he played better. Maybe Schiano's right, and Freeman lacks the "fire" necessary to be a star quarterback in the NFL.
He'll get another shot somewhere. After all, he's still only 25 years old. It will be for a lot less money than he would have gotten in an extension with the Buccaneers, though.
Schiano's odds of having an NFL job after this year are even worse. The Buccaneers are 0-4. This whole fiasco has only enhanced the perception that he's completely out of touch with his players. The "hard-nosed attitude" that attracted Tampa to Schiano to begin with now comes off as a bully who has alienated his own team.
Should Schiano (or someone in his circle) prove to be Mortensen's source, his NFL career would be over. Even the perception that he is may be enough. What free agent is going to sign with a team where it appears the coach will turn on his players out of nothing more than spite?
The biggest losers in all this are the fans of the Buccaneers.
They entered this season with dreams of making the playoffs.
Now they're trapped in a nightmare, supporting a winless team that has become a punchline.