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
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.