PITTSFORD – Pat Morris did not need any direct connections to Doug Marrone to get the job as Buffalo Bills’ offensive line coach.
It was enough that the 59-year-old Morris was a long-time member of the fraternity of offensive line coaches in the NFL.
“We never worked together, but we were O-line coaches together in the NFL,” Morris said. “I was at the 49ers and the Vikings. He was at the Jets and the Saints.”
“When I was at Minnesota, a couple of my linemen, Matt Birk and Steve Hutchinson, went to the Pro Bowl and he knew I coached them,” Morris said. “Offensive line coaches in the league are a pretty close-knit group. We knew each other that way more than any other way.”
Morris brings 16 years of NFL experience and 36 years of coaching experience overall to the Bills’ O-line job, which many consider the most important position-coach duty on a football team.
That’s partly because it’s the position with the most starters (five) and partly because the offensive linemen rely on such close coordination.
Morris inherits a unit with only one starting job up for grabs. But there are a lot of questions about the depth along the line.
The Bills’ offensive line generally got good reviews the last two seasons. Buffalo ranked sixth in rushing yards, fourth in yards per carry and 11th in sacks allowed per pass attempt in 2012. However, the offense overall ranked 19th in yards and 21st in points.
“It’s not starting from scratch,” Morris said. “There’s guys with some experience in the first group. You can look at stats how you want, but the bottom line is winning games.”
“I’ve been at many places where we won a rushing title but we didn’t win games,” Morris said. “They are good stats. Not to get the quarterback hit is good. How many times does he get hit as opposed to sacked? They keep that now, too, and that’s a factor for the offensive line. Those stats can lead to success. But the bottom line is the only stat I care about, wins and losses.”
Morris has been on the staff of three teams that led the league in rushing. He coached offensive line for San Francisco teams that did it in 1998 and ’99 and ranked second in 2001. He coached offensive line when Minnesota won the rushing title in 2007, the rookie season of All-Pro Adrian Peterson.
Morris played college football at Southern California during a golden era under coach John McKay. The Trojans went to three Rose Bowls and won two national titles while Morris was an undergraduate. The teams included Trojan greats Lynn Swann, Pat Haden, Sam “Bam” Cunningham, Anthony Davis and Ricky Bell.
“I was fortunate to be on that team,” Morris said. “I played my senior year; didn’t play a lot, but I was around a lot of great players. Originally I went there as a linebacker, then I went to the D-line and my last stop was offensive line. I finally made the squad my last two years.”
Key stops in Morris’ college coaching career included stints at Southern Cal from 1983 to ’86, where he coached under Ted Tollner and on a staff with future NFL head coach Steve Mariucci; and at Michigan State from 1987 to ’94, where he worked for George Perles.
“He’s a fundamental, tough coach,” Morris said of Perles. “That gave me the perspective of the pro game in terms of what it would take to be a pro coach. George was with the Steelers teams that won the four Super Bowls.”
Morris served under Mariucci with San Francisco and Detroit, then served under Brad Childress with the Vikings. After Childress was fired, Morris worked for a season under Raheem Morris in Tampa.
The Tampa staff was fired after the 2011 season, and Pat Morris spent the 2012 season out of football … sort of. He spent much of last season studying film with former Bucs head coach Jon Gruden, who has an office in Tampa out of which he runs the Fired Football Coaches’ Association. He and other former coaches gather to study football video.
“I helped him a little bit with his Monday Night Football job,” Morris said of Gruden. “He has all the film down there. So I stayed fresh with what happened in the league last year. It was really interesting. When you don’t have a game every week, kind of with a gun to your head, you get a chance to really look at personnel and get to see guys on defense and other offenses. I would kind of suggest it to guys who have coached a long time. It’s not a bad thing to get yourself re-energized and fresh.”