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TAMPA, Fla. – Greg Schiano's belief in his plan for turning the Tampa Bay Buccaneers around never wavered.
After spending the first half of the NFL season looking like a coach destined to be fired, he has led the Bucs (3-8) to three straight victories and could be on the verge of saving his job.
With five Sundays remaining in his second season in Tampa Bay, no one can be sure how many more games he needs to win to ensure his return for 2014. Still, there are signs his vision for turning the struggling franchise around is moving in the right direction if ownership decides to stay the course.
That's considerably better than his situation appeared less than a month ago, when the Bucs were 0-8, reeling from a messy divorce with quarterback Josh Freeman and trying to clean up an even nastier scene in the locker room following an outbreak of MRSA infections that brought more unwanted attention to the organization.
"There's nothing I can do about what's transpired except learn from it. I don't waste emotional energy or really any energy going back," Schiano said of the about-face that actually began with an overtime loss at Seattle, which owns the league's top record. "We try to learn from it as we go and then put it behind us and move forward, so that's really where we are now."
The Bucs built a 21-0 lead over the Seahawks only to fall 27-24 in OT. It was the fourth time this season they'd let a game slip away after leading in the fourth quarter, however the performance on the road against a quality opponent dispelled the notion that Schiano had lost the support of his players.
Beating Miami, Atlanta and Detroit the past three weeks has bolstered his chances of keeping his job. The fact he has turned the tide while playing a rookie quarterback and a cadre of young, no-names filling in for injured and/or suspended starters supports the belief of some that he has already saved himself.
Schiano, lured from Rutgers after the 2011 season, said patience and sticking with his plan for making the Bucs relevant again is paying off.
"I think everybody kind of collectively taking a breath to just keep going," Schiano said. "Our leadership in that locker room and their persistence. Guys not panicking, guys not pointing fingers, (realizing) you just keep working at it and it'll turn. It's the old sledgehammer on the rock theory. You've got to keep pounding sometimes. You don't know which swing is going to crack it."
The steady, if unspectacular, play of quarterback Mike Glennon has been one of the keys. The third-round draft pick out of North Carolina has started eight games since replacing Freeman, a 4,000-yard passer a year ago who was benched — and subsequently released — after struggling the first three weeks of the season.
Helped by the re-emergence of a productive running game, Glennon has thrown for 10 touchdowns with just one interception in the last six games.
And while the 23-year-old quarterback has yet to prove he's the franchise's long-term solution, the rookie's progress has defused criticism of the handling of Freeman, whose situation was exacerbated by allegations Schiano played a role in his not being voted a team captain and later leaked information about Freeman being a voluntary participant in the NFL's drug testing program.
Glennon not only is the first rookie in NFL history to throw for at least one touchdown in each of the first eight games of his career, but no quarterback in the league has thrown fewer interceptions over the past six games.
"I had high expectations from the beginning with him," Schiano said. "I think he just continues to incrementally get better every game as he sees more. He works incredibly hard at it, (he's) very coachable, tries to do what you ask him to do and yet he's not a robot. He does improvise, he does some things, makes plays where maybe aren't some.
"The thing that he has to continue to do is let bad plays die," the coach added. "I think he's done a really good job, and most young quarterbacks don't. Most young quarterbacks have a hard time fighting their own competitive instinct and they try to make every play 'the play.' He's done a very good job of letting the bad ones die, and that may be one of the best things he does."
One of Schiano's most vocal supporters has been defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, the third overall pick in the 2010 draft and a first-time Pro Bowl selection a year ago.
He has insisted all along that the coach had not lost the locker room.
"People will tell you can't do it, you don't have it, or this team isn't this, this team isn't that," McCoy said. "That's all from the outside looking in.
"Us on the inside of these four walls, we've never stopped believing. We kept preparing the same every week. We just persevered, and it all starts with our head coach," the fourth-year pro added. "He came in every day, worked ... and we fed off him, kept on going and now we're getting some wins. Hopefully, we can keep it going."
Schiano is confident the team is headed is the right direction, but isn't taking anything for granted.
"We use the analogy in sports all the time, it's like crossing a brook, those rocks are slippery," Schiano said. "If you look up for one minute to see the other end, you're going to fall on your rear end, so you just watch one stone at a time and step stone to stone.
"That's kind of how we've got to do it around here."
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