Although the two coaching staffs will be squaring off in Week 3 of the 2013 regular season, the friendship and bonds shared by New England head coach Bill Belichick and his Tampa Bay counterpart, Greg Schiano, will produce a rather unconventional twist next week. That's when Schiano and six members of his coaching staff will travel to Foxboro to meet and go over coaching topics and techniques with Belichick and his assistants, SI.com has learned.
The visit to the Patriots by Schiano and staff does not violate any league rule or policy, as NFL spokesman Greg Aiello made clear Friday. But it is at least uncommon to see two active coaches convening their staffs to compare notes in person during the offseason, especially since the Bucs play at New England twice this year, once in Week 2 of the preseason and again in September. Belichick and Schiano have often talked about their respect for each other, and just last week the Patriots coach paid Schiano's coaching acumen another high compliment by selecting three of his former Rutgers players in the NFL Draft.
The Bucs and Patriots also met in the 2012 preseason in Tampa Bay and conducted some joint practices before that game, a move that will likely be repeated in Foxboro before the inter-conference foes meet in Week 2 of the preseason. Part of next week's coaching sessions are believed to be about scheduling this year's joint practices, although it would seem that task could easily be handled on the phone, without Tampa Bay taking the unusual step of sending a traveling party of seven to Massachusetts.
Though a Bucs official declined to comment on Schiano and part of his staff visiting New England, a league source characterized the session as one in which the Tampa contingent would learn from Belichick and his staff some scheduling details. The two parties will discuss how the Patriots set up their calendar, how to best approach and organize the preseason, deal with the bye-week schedule and organize various practice schedules. In other words, they're talking about the logistics of running a team, rather than any in-depth discussion of X's and O's.
A spokesman with the Patriots confirmed the meeting with Tampa Bay coaches next week at New England's Gillette Stadium complex, but said the sessions will not be unprecedented in the team's Belichick era. Though he declined to divulge details, the spokesman said the Patriots have had at least one other team's coaching staff in for an offseason visit over the years, and perhaps even visited the staffs of other teams on one or more occasions. In the past, these visits have been conducted somewhat informally and off the radar, never becoming public knowledge, the spokesman said.
Perhaps that's because while violating no league policy, from an appearance standpoint, such coaching clinics could be construed to fall under the gray area of fraternization with the competition, at least when it entails two active coaching staffs. The fact that the Bucs and Patriots play in the regular season makes it potentially more of a sensitive topic, but no one would suspect Belichick, of all people, of giving away state secrets.
Schiano is entering his second season in Tampa Bay, after serving as Rutgers head coach for 11 years. He and Belichick have been friends for quite some time and often expressed mutual admiration for each other's coaching. Last week, the Patriots used three of their seven draft picks to select Rutgers defensive players: cornerback Logan Ryan in the second round, safety Duron Harmon in the third, and linebacker Steve Beauharnais in the seventh. In addition, Rutgers cornerback Brandon Jones was signed by New England this week as an undrafted free agent.
With those four new players, the Scarlet Knight contingent on the New England roster grows to six, along with veteran safety Devin McCourty and defensive end Justin Francis. Another obvious tie to Rutgers is Steve Belichick, the son of the Patriots' long-time head coach, and a former Rutgers long-snapper who is now a New England assistant on his father's staff. Interestingly, Schiano has yet to draft a Rutgers player in his two years in Tampa Bay, though he has signed several former Rutgers players as undrafted collegiate free agents.
Coaches visiting other coaches and gleaning information about how they organize and run their programs is nothing new, of course. There is a culture of sharing in much of the coaching fraternity. It has been fairly common in recent years for head coaches who are currently out of the game for a time -- like Mike Shanahan in his one-year NFL sabbatical between Denver and Washington -- to tour the training camps or facilities of one-time coaching rivals to freshen up their coaching manuals or learn about new trends, techniques or approaches to scheduling.
But no one in the league office or with the two clubs involved could or would produce another specific instance in which two active head coaches, albeit in different conferences but fighting for the same Super Bowl trophy, were known to conduct a coaching get-together at one of the team's complexes in the offseason. Especially if those teams were scheduled to meet that year.
Belichick's generosity in sharing his insights with coaches he has respect for is fairly well established, of which Schiano definitely qualifies. But it's also ironic in light of Belichick's penchant for secrecy regarding the league's mandated injury report and his well-known ability to divulge little meaningful information to the media.