The first time I met Raheem Morris, I thought he had NFL head coach written all over him. And he proved me right, though much, much sooner than I expected.
Morris is mired in one of the worst seasons in Buccaneers history in his rookie year as head coach. Just about every sane person would preach patience at this point, as Morris isn’t completely to blame for this debacle. The Buccaneers have, as of this writing, given no indication that they are contemplating a change at head coach. Plus, moves of this nature after just one season at the helm are rare, even in today’s NFL.
But he must assume some of the blame, and at least from my point of view, there’s enough evidence to show that Morris is not the man for the job in Tampa Bay. I’m probably in the minority – in fact, I’m certain that I am – but I have three reasons why I believe the Bucs should part ways with Morris after the season is over.
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1. His staff
Any former or current head coach will tell you that the staff you hire is the first major, and perhaps most important, decision you will make as a head coach. In this regard Morris failed miserably.
Let’s talk about the coordinators. He hired Jeff Jagodzinski on offense and Jim Bates on defense. Jagodzinski didn’t even last to the regular season opener. Morris fired him 10 days before the season began and installed quarterbacks coach Greg Olson as his replacement. Jags’ crime? He didn’t get the ball downfield enough for Morris’ liking. Did that not come up during the job interview? It was well established that Jags was a West Coast offense guy, which means throwing the ball downfield rarely happens. If Morris wanted a coordinator with a more vertical passing game, that’s who he should have hired.
Then there’s Bates, a defensive coordinator with a great reputation. Morris basically let him go a week ago, relieving Bates of play-calling duties. Bates didn’t even go to Atlanta for their Week 12 contest. Morris re-installed the Cover 2 principles the Bucs had been successful with and, well wouldn’t you know it, the Bucs has six sacks and held the Falcons under 100 yards rushing.
Morris has spent most of his career in a Cover 2 philosophy. When he was promoted last year, he knew the personnel on defense as well as anyone. He also knew that Bates was not a Cover 2 coach. He liked man principles in the passing game and run-clogging tackles up front. That must have come up, right? But Morris hired him anyway. Part of a coach’s job is knowing what your personnel is good at and maximizing it. His defensive personnel was great at the Cover 2. Why walk away from that? It smacks of a coach that doesn’t have a plan.
This isn’t to say that all of Morris’ hires were bad. TE coach Alfredo Roberts has done a nice job with Kellen Winslow this year. OL coach Pete Magurian has done solid work, and LB coach Joe Barry is back and doing great work with Barrett Ruud. But head coaches are defined by their selections at coordinator. And Morris’ hires were misguided. For that, he must be held accountable, just as he has publicly held his players and coaches accountable all season.
2. Questionable In-Game Decisions
I don’t think anyone assumed that Morris would be an excellent game manager right out of the box. But I didn’t expect there would be a weekly rundown of all of the questionable calls he makes in each game, either.
Take Week 12 in Atlanta. Who calls for a fake punt with a lead? That’s nearly as misguided as what Bill Belichick did on 4th-and-2 against Indianapolis. No matter how good or how back the opposing offense is, you do not give them a short field to work with as they try to make a comeback. That’s coaching 101.
Another constant has been Morris’ issues with time management this season. His inability to manage the clock has come to a head in several contests, most notably New England (where it really didn’t matter) and Carolina (where it really did matter). Clock management is a pretty basic job requirement as the head coach. No one is perfect at it, but mistakes with the clock shouldn’t become a habit.
Morris is a great position coach, and he has the makings of a great defensive coordinator. But head coaches must understand the subtleties of the game to be successful. And thanks to Morris’ rapid progression through the coaching ranks, Morris seemed to skip that part of the equation.
This team doesn’t have a lot of talent. But Morris has coached the Bucs out of at least two wins this season by ignoring things that, in pro football terms, are pretty elementary.
Mistakes will happen. But I’m not sure Morris is learning from his.
3. The Thing He Can’t Control
Mike Holmgren. Tony Dungy. Mike Shanahan. Bill Cowher. Dick Jauron. OK, just kidding about Jauron.
But the point is made. Never before have there been so many big-name head coaches on the market, for whatever reason. Holmgren, Dungy, Shanahan and Cowher all have one thing in common – they’ve won at least one Super Bowl. Morris may have a ring, but it was as the equivalent of a coaching go-fer under Jon Gruden. All four of these men also have experience in rebuilding football teams from the ground up. Holmgren did it in Seattle. Dungy in Tampa Bay. Shanahan in Denver. Cowher in Pittsburgh. Heck, Dungy has a home in Tampa. That’s not to say he would be the right choice, I’m just saying.
Let’s say the Bucs finish 1-15 or 2-14 and this team shows little to no progress under Morris. They would end up with the No. 1 overall pick. Who do you trust to maximize the potential of that selection? Morris and GM Mark Dominik (who will, to some degree unfairly, get lumped into this), or an experienced coach with a Super Bowl ring who’s done it all before? If you’re the Glazer family, you’d have to think about it.
If I were in their shoes, I’d already be thinking about it. By now, I’ve seen enough to think that maybe I made the wrong decision and need to start over again, before I invest too much time and effort into Morris and lose the fan base any more than I already have.
And it doesn’t have to be these four guys, either. USC’s Pete Carroll, Florida’s Urban Meyer and Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops could be had, for the right price of course. These three have basically been running “pro” programs at the college level for years. Meyer is intriguing. Would he really want to move forward without Tim Tebow? He seems to leave a school when his stud QB does. Meyer might just want that challenge. Carroll is dealing with NCAA violations and may want out. OU fans don’t know how good they have it with Stoops, and by walking away he could prove it.
Holmgren may end up in his beloved Seattle as their new GM, and Cowher seems a perfect fit for Carolina. That still leaves Shanahan and Dungy. The big names are still out there, if the Glazers are willing to pay.
The point is this: I don’t think Morris is the right man for the job. And in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of the NFL, if I’m the GM, I can’t waste time betting that he can turn it around. I have to go with my gut. I have to fire him.
One wonders if the Glazers feel the same way.