Coaching an NFL team is a mix of doing some things you want to do, some things you have to do, some things that will pay dividends later and some things that are simply the right thing.
Greg Schiano did all of those on the first play of his NFL coaching career last Sunday in Tampa. Ronde Barber had started 199 straight games at cornerback for the Bucs. Schiano moved him to free safety in the offseason, to both extend Barber's career and as a nod that, at 37, he's not the athlete he once was at one of the most important positions for athleticism in all of sports. Barber was fine with it, but Schiano also knew the symmetry and historical significance of starting 200 straight games at cornerback -- Barber has shattered the previous record of 171, by Dick LeBeau.
So at the Bucs' pregame meal, Schiano found Barber, asked him about it, and Barber said, "Well, it's a nice round number, but it is what it is.'' In other words, I'd really like to be the only defensive back in history to start 200 games in a row at the same position, but do what you have to do, and if it doesn't work out, I won't be an idiot about it.
Schiano told Barber they'd come out in a nickel defense, with Barber playing the slot. As it turned out, Carolina opened with three wides, so it was a perfect alignment anyway. Then Barber went back to free safety, next to rookie Mark Barron, and the Bucs put in a third linebacker on second down, and off they went to an opening-day upset for Carolina.
Players noticed. Barber, the leader of this group of kids, was surprised -- in a good way.
"He has the mentality of a hard-nosed, disciplinarian kind of guy,'' Barber said Thursday from Tampa. "For him to even consider something like that, I was touched by it.''
The Bucs play the 0-1 Giants at the Meadowlands this week, and Tampa's an intriguing team. Schiano came in with his my-way-or-the-highway approach, and you'd figure he'd probably want to start fresh with a whole group of kids he could train to do things his way. Barber's never been a clubhouse lawyer, but it would have made sense if Schiano wanted to go with a new crew. Then he watched some Barber tape from last season, and heard from GM Mark Dominik what a valuable guy inside and outside the building Barber still was. And Schiano told Barber he wanted him to stay -- and to start at free safety.
"I've been extremely loyal to this organization,'' Barber said. "Loyal to the coaches I've played for, loyal to the owners, loyal to the front office. I would imagine it's pretty rare one player stays through four different regimes (Tony Dungy, Jon Gruden, Raheem Morris, Schiano), but I think they see I can still play. This is obviously not normal. I was prepared for it to end after last season, but as good as I feel now, and as much fun as it is, I don't even know if this [season] is it.''
How odd it is that Ronde and twin brother Tiki starred for the Bucs and Giants, respectively, through 2006, and then Tiki retired to pursue a career in TV, and Ronde kept playing. They were always so alike, but Ronde kept loving football and Tiki lost his love for it. Amazing, really, that this is the sixth season Ronde's playing and Tiki isn't.
"It is a little strange,'' Ronde said. "Last year he flirted with the idea of coming back, but I think it was more out of boredom than anything else.''
The lesser-known Barber's back on Broadway for one more game Sunday, and I can assure you he won't be bored.
Had fun interviewing Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano, NFL Network and NBC Sports football analyst Mike Mayock and Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune for the second podcast of 2012. As usual, it's available on SI.com and on iTunes.
Schiano, on why he has retained close ties to his former Rutgers player, Eric LeGrand: "I went into people's living rooms and promised their parents that I would take care of them. I never said I would take care of them as if they were my own, because I think that's impossible, but I told them I would take care of them the way I would like mine to be taken care of. And I gave those parents my word, and Karen LeGrand was one of those parents. I think as you coach in college and recruit kids and bring them to your institution, there's a certain duty that you have to the families, because those guys aren't grown up, they aren't ready, it's not the National Football League where they're men; they're still kids in big bodies. And that's just the connection that I had, not just with Eric [LeGrand], but with our players.''
Mayock, on the Week 1 struggles of the Packers: "All the negative things surrounding Green Bay's defense surfaced again on Sunday, and the one positive, the turnover differential, did not. And that's why they lost to the Giants last year and it's why they lost to San Francisco last week.''
Jacksonville left tackle Eugene Monroe (No. 75). Last week, Monroe clean-sheeted Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen, one of the best defensive players on the planet: In 75 Jaguars offensive plays, from the official NFL play-by-play, Allen had zero tackles, zero assists, zero sacks, zero quarterback hits. (ProFootballFocus, the site that examines how every player did on every snap, credited Allen with a tackle and two quarterback pressures, but the press box numbers listed Allen with nothing in 75 plays.) Either way, it's amazing, considering the game was on the fast track of the Metrodome's fake grass.
This week, Monroe gets the rising Houston defense. The 3-4 Texans D will throw defensive end Antonio Smith and, more often, outside 'backer Connor Barwin at Monroe. Barwin and Smith were 1-2 on the Texans in sacks last year, combining for 18.
1. Darrelle Revis' head. After suffering a concussion against Buffalo last Sunday, Revis said Thursday he felt like he was in a fog. If the best defensive back in football doesn't play against a powerful passing team in Pittsburgh Sunday, the Jets' chances of winning are markedly decreased. That's why the docs who examine Revis Friday and Saturday are going to be under major pressure to do the right thing, not the thing they know Revis and Rex Ryan want them to do, which is to clear Revis.
2. The behavior of Jim Harbaugh and Jim Schwartz. It's a rematch of the Handshake Game from last year. These may be two of the most combative coaches in the league, but Schwartz went to Georgetown and Harbaugh to Michigan. They're not dumb. And with NBC putting both under the microscope Sunday night, it'd be positively stunning if they didn't have a civil postgame greeting.
3. Griffining. We invent such silly things to commemorate funny things players do. But it's harmless fun. Look for Robert Griffin III to Griffin two times Sunday against the ascending Rams' defense. "The Rams should have won the football game [in Detroit],'' Mike Shanahan said Thursday. "It kind of gives you an idea how much those DBs helped."
4. Weedening.Brandon Weeden's career minor-league baseball ERA: 5.02. Weeden's Week 1 passer rating: 5.1. (Thanks for that one, Mike Jaffe.) Good thing the Browns are on the road this week, at Cincinnati.
5. And as if the Browns didn't have enough trouble ... Joe Haden (suspension for PEDs) is out for four weeks; Dimitri Patterson is in. Cincinnati's Andy Dalton and A.J. Green smile.
6. Dome Sweet Dome.Peyton Manning plays inside (always his venue of choice) Monday night, in Atlanta. Underrated franchise cornerback Brent Grimes is out for the Falcons. Can you say, "337 yards and three touchdown passes?"
7. James Harrison out again. The Steelers tone-setter is 34, and his body is letting him know he's 34. After a knee scope one month ago, Harrison's not ready to play yet -- and he may have company on the sidelines Sunday if Troy Polamalu, 31, can't play with a calf injury suffered Sunday in Denver. Mark Sanchez's Sunday could be getting easier by the hour.
8. Facial hair. Fans will be given Fisher-staches at the Rams home opener Sunday, but I'm sure Jeff Fisher would prefer to sack BobGriff five times than talk about facial hair. Playing well is the way to get fans on your side.
9. Pressure-cooker in Buffalo. The 0-1 Chiefs and Bills play, and 0-2 will be a disaster for one of them. But it'd be worse for the Chiefs, who have the Saints, Chargers and Ravens in the next three weeks.
10. The refs: They are 17 for 17 so far. The replacement refs have been shaky, and barely adequate in some games. But they've officiated 17 games and haven't blown one yet by making a late-game-turning call resulting in the wrong team winning. I still say it's only a matter of time, but we shall see. By the way, I'm told it's been 13 days since the real refs and the NFL have had any negotiations.