Share this article

print logo

Morris puts his stamp on Bucs First-year coach was unknown to most

Asking football fans outside the Tampa-St. Petersburg area to identify the Buccaneers' defensive backs coach from last season would be asking too much, would it not? In order to make things easier, here's a hint: He's now one game into his NFL head coaching career after taking over for Jon Gruden.
First name: Raheem.

Still stumped?
Why it's Raheem Morris, of course, the 33-year-old former Hofstra defensive back who never played a down in the NFL, was never a head coach at any level, spent only one year as a college coordinator and initially turned down the Bucs' offer to take over because he had so much respect for Gruden.

Morris in many ways resembles the team he coaches. He's the second-youngest head coach in the league and is a virtual unknown. He's the central figure of a project in which the Bucs are determined to overhaul the organization with youthful exuberance and intelligence in an effort to regain respectability.
"I wouldn't necessarily call it a youth movement, [but] I guess you would have to because we're so young," Morris said during his weekly conference call. "When we go out, we want to practice a certain way. If you want to practice, you want to be fundamentally tough. You want to get back to some of your fundamental core beliefs."
Growing pains are inevitable for the Bucs, who visit Ralph Wilson Stadium for the first time in history Sunday afternoon for the Bills' home opener. Tampa Bay is expected to be among the weaker teams in the league, a fundamental belief that will not change until Morris and his roster dominated by no-names prove otherwise.
It begins with establishing an identity.

Morris already has made several bold moves in an effort to shift the direction of the organization. He fired former first-year offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski days before the season opener. He waived respected veteran linebacker Derrick Brooks, their emotional leader and biggest star, and replaced him with second-year man Geno Hayes.
Tampa Bay signed quarterback Byron Leftwich to run the offense, dumping Jeff Garcia and Brian Griese. Leftwich will groom first-round pick Josh Freeman, the former Kansas State star who was picked 17th overall after the Bucs moved up two spots to get him. They also traded for tight end Kellen Winslow.
Every move was intended to make the Bucs younger, faster and tougher after a 9-7 season in which they missed the playoffs. Cornerback Ronde Barber and punter Dirk Johnson, both 34, are the only two players on the roster who are older than their coach. Morris' age actually was one reason he was promoted.
"For a lot of different reasons, the players and the attitude of players have changed and the way you have to approach them has changed," Barber said. "I think he relates to them as good in that position as anyone I've been around. Even though he's our head coach and he has all the responsibility, it's not hard for him to get on our level and be one of the young guys and relate to them that way."

Morris might be a stranger to some, but he's no stranger to good coaching. Gruden gave him his first job in Tampa. He worked directly under Mike Tomlin, who last year coached the Steelers to the Super Bowl. His mentors since a minority internship with the Jets in 2001 include Monte Kiffin, Rod Marinelli, Tony Dungy, Lovie Smith and Herm Edwards.
Still, he was a surprise choice to take over the Bucs after Gruden was fired last January. Nobody was more shocked than Morris himself. He had been promoted to defensive coordinator a few weeks earlier and expected a routine meeting when co-chairmen Joel and Bryan Glazer summoned him to team headquarters.
The Glazers told him of their plans to fire Gruden and offered Morris the job on the spot. He was blindsided. He declined at first because he didn't want to be involved in his friend and mentor's firing. He accepted upon learning Gruden was getting canned regardless. Morris left the office as the fourth-youngest coach in NFL history.
In a strange twist, Gruden was among the first people he called for advice. Gruden told him to run with the opportunity.
"The one thing I was able to take from him and absolutely steal from him is the ability to deliver a presentation to a football team," Morris said. "He's amazing. He has everyone drinking out of the same Kool-Aid jar by the time you leave that room. I want to get this team to believe and execute what we are trying to get done."
Of course, that means doing things his way.
"He's definitely his own man," Barber said. "What I had under Tony is not the same like what I had under Jon, and what I had under those two guys is nothing like I have under Raheem. He brings that youthful energy and that 21st century feel to coaching. He's the new age."
Morris might be new age, but he has embraced several old-school methods. Most teams hold at least one light workout during the week plus a walk-through before a game in an effort to preserve their players. The Bucs practice in full pads and have tackling drills every day in an effort to make them more aggressive.
The Bucs were among the NFL's top five in pass defense five times in six years after he joined the staff. They slipped to 19th in 2006, the year he left to become a defensive coordinator at Kansas State. They were first a year later after he returned. They were fourth against the pass last season before a disastrous start to this one.
Tony Romo torched the Bucs' secondary for 353 yards and three touchdowns of 40 yards or more last week in Dallas' 34-21 victory. All told, the Bucs surrendered 462 yards in the opener. The big plays and convincing loss overshadowed the 450 yards they had against the Cowboys.
And it did little to raise Morris' profile.
"You are what your tape says and nothing else," Morris said. "Respect is given; it's not taken. These guys know that and understand that. They've all fallen in line. We're having a ball trying to make it work."

e-mail: bgleason@buffnews.com

There are no comments - be the first to comment