USF doesn't have many football villains, but right at the top of the list for a lot of Bulls fans would be Greg Schiano, the new coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Schiano beat USF five times, more than any other coach. He antagonized fans, players, and coaches alike, and it always seemed to be his Rutgers Scarlet Knights who would hand the Bulls their most painful loss of the season. Schiano became the person USF fans loved to hate. And up until a couple of years ago, I was one of those people.
On our site, we often do Q&A sessions with the other college blogs on SB Nation before USF plays games against them. Before USF faced Rutgers in 2010, I answered a few questions for On the Banks, and one of their questions to me was, "Is there any bad blood or animosity here?"
Was there ever.
-- Before USF even joined the Big East, Rutgers planted a billboard along I-4 in Tampa wishing everyone a merry Christmas from Rutgers football, featuring all of the Florida high school talent Schiano and his assistants had plucked out of the state. It didn't have much of an effect on fans, but it drove former USF coach Jim Leavitt crazy and, along with some other things, made him irrationally zealous to beat Rutgers. That instantly gave Schiano the edge over him, because Leavitt was less effective as a coach when he was wound up and emotional.
-- Not surprisingly, a wound-up and emotional Leavitt went 1-4 against the Scarlet Knights between 2005 and 2009. He won the first matchup, then lost four straight, including:
- a tough 22-20 home loss in 2006 where Amp Hill dropped a game-tying two point conversion pass in the final seconds
- a humiliating 31-0 shutout in 2009 that had highly respected analyst Craig James laughing at the Bulls from the ESPN booth (in between threatening phone calls to Mike Leach about his son's playing time, probably)
- and of course, the infamous 30-27 loss in 2007 when USF had climbed all the way up to #2 in the country. There were trick plays, there was questionable refereeing, there was Ray Rice trucking George Selvie... it's the most painful loss in school history.
-- In January 2009, Florida International canceled a scheduled game with USF in Tampa so they could begin a series with Rutgers, forcing the Bulls to scramble for a replacement. (They settled on Charleston Southern, and then Matt Grothe tore his ACL in that game.) Even though FIU and maybe the Big East office deserved the blame for this incident, most USF fans reflexively blamed the whole thing on Schiano because his teams already frustrated them, so why not.
A lot of USF fans went on hating Schiano all the way up to now, as Greg Auman's Tampa Bay Times blog entry yesterday illustrates. But when I was answering On the Banks's question in 2010, I thought about USF's coaching change from Leavitt to Skip Holtz, which broke up the foundation on which this grudge match had been built. It made me question whether the hatred of Greg Schiano was real or something we just went along with. Then I realized that by and large, Leavitt and Schiano were the same:
Obviously Schiano kept himself together better than Leavitt did, but they did have similar personalities -- intense, demanding, very hard-working, likely to rub some people the wrong way, and defensive in a good way of their work, their players, and their program. Why would we like those characteristics in our own coach and loathe them in another?
It's true, and I was kind of embarrassed that it took me five years to figure it out. Looking back, Leavitt and Schiano were almost guaranteed to clash with each other, and USF fans obviously took Leavitt's side when they ultimately did. We vilified Schiano's sideline antics and the way he interacted with everyone around him, while defending Leavitt when he did pretty much the same thing, or even pretending like we didn't notice it. Only after one of them was taken out of the picture did the double standard become clear.
The only possible conclusion?
I can't believe I'm saying this, but I bet I would like Schiano if he was my team's coach.
It's only been about 18 hours since Schiano took the Bucs job... but so far so good.