COLUMBUS, Ohio — Greg Schiano’s office is also set up to be a meeting room for Ohio State’s safeties. There are a couple of tables, eight chairs, and neatly set out at each spot is a binder with the week’s game plan.
Schiano is three quarters of the way through his first college football season as an assistant coach since 2000. As defensive coordinator and associate head coach of the Buckeyes, Schiano is working for — and learning from — his good friend Urban Meyer, helping the Buckeyes contend for the College Football Playoff and adding to a resume that should be good enough to get him another head-coaching gig.
Schiano performed one of the great makeovers in college football history during an 11-year stint as Rutgers head coach. He took the Scarlet Knights to six bowl appearances after the school previously had made just one. But his two seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers produced only 11 victories and complaints from players that he was heavy-handed and uncompromising as the team flailed. He was fired after the 2013 season. At a time when many schools are looking for the next big thing and coaches are defined by last season, there are some obstacles between Schiano and another stint in the big office.
“Any relationship is about fit. I’ve had opportunities that just weren’t a fit for me to be a head coach. If and when the fit is right that’s when I’ll do it and the same for them,” Schiano said. “Some people are looking for a younger guy that doesn’t have a whole bunch of experience, but is kind of catch the rising star so to speak. Where other people are looking for something else. It’s the same for me. At this stage in my career, I don’t need to be a head coach. Would I like to be? Yeah, I would like to be again someday.”
Schiano and Meyer have been friends for years. They have traded ideas and dropped in on each other’s programs. When Chris Ash left Ohio State to become head coach at Rutgers, coincidentally, Meyer talked Schiano into filling the opening.
“I have kind of gone back for a master’s degree in coaching under someone I’m very close with,” said Schiano, who drew interest from both Southern California and Miami last year.
Schiano, who was defensive coordinator at Miami under Butch Davis before he went to Rutgers in 2001, said he understood he was not coming to Columbus to fix the Buckeyes’ defense. His focus has been more on attitude.
“What he did was try to add a little bit more swag to the defense,” junior linebacker Chris Worley said. “Not just thinking about making a good play but thinking about making a great play. Not just thinking about stopping teams, but becoming a smothering defense.”
The Buckeyes are currently third in the nation at 4.3 yards allowed per play.
Schiano and Luke Fickell both hold the title of defensive coordinator at Ohio State. Meyer had to be confident the new guy could work well with the incumbent.
“Zero issues,” Meyer said. “I thought that would work out well. It’s worked out even better than I thought.”
Schiano said Meyer is a “genius” when it comes to empowering assistant coaches and he hopes to take that to his next stop — wherever that might be.
“He makes it crystal clear — we have a saying clarity of purpose — he makes it very clear what your role is what your job is and what overall the organization’s mission is,” Schiano said. “And then he creates a real urgency to get that done.”
There are already five schools in FBS looking for a head coach, three at the Power Five level (LSU, Baylor and Purdue). Unless some openings create a trickle down of more vacancies the market is not likely to be as active as last season, when 26 schools hired new coaches.
Columbus could be more than just a quick detour for Schiano. He said that’s OK because it is making him a better coach.
“At 50 years old you say, well I’ve done this, but there’s some many things that if I ever do it again as a head coach that I will incorporate into what I do,” Schiano said. “And I think we’ve done a lot of good stuff over the years, but I think meshing the two together will be really powerful.”