The Buccaneers were a mess in 2009.
It began with the surprise dismissal of coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen on Jan. 16.
It got more bizarre with the hiring of Raheem Morris as head coach. Morris, the Bucs' defensive backs coach, had been promoted to succeed Monte Kiffin as defensive coordinator on Christmas Day. But before he had a chance to perform those duties, he was summoned to the office of vice president Joel Glazer and told at 33, he would become the NFL's youngest head coach.
Mark Dominik, who spent 14 years with the Bucs in their scouting department, became the league's second-youngest GM at age 37.
If that weren't enough inexperience, the Bucs made a decision to trade up in the first round and draft Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman with the 17th overall pick.
Dominik and Morris had ideas about which direction to take the Bucs, but off the ledge wasn't one of the them.
Tampa Bay finished 3-13, its worst record since 1991, and that was only accomplished by winning two of the final three games -- at Seattle and at New Orleans.
Morris and Dominik made the kind of mistakes that can be fatal to a franchise.
Start with their choice of coordinators. The Bucs hired former Boston College coach Jeff Jagodzinski as their offensive coordinator, thinking Jags would bring a zone-blocking scheme, a commitment to the running game and a vertical, play-action passing game.
What they didn't find out through the vetting process was that Jagodzinski had not really called plays. In fact, he was so bad at it in training camp and the preseason, they decided to fire him 10 days before the start of the regular season.
Quarterbacks coach Greg Olson was promoted to offensive coordinator, but he tried to keep much of the Jagodzinski system in place, which he now says was a mistake. Gradually, he returned the Bucs to a man-blocking, power-running team with more West Coast influence in the passing game.
Defensively, the Bucs hired Jim Bates. Morris' expertise is defense, but he wanted to get away from the Tampa 2 scheme and play more matchup and quarters coverage, taking advantage of the obvious coverage skills of Aqib Talib.
But Bates favored a two-gap defensive line scheme. He wanted linebackers to turn their backs to the quarterback and play matchup coverage. He put his cornerbacks on an island for 60 plays per game.
It was a disaster. The Bucs' defensive linemen were only fitted for a one-gap scheme. The Bucs failed Bates as much as he failed them. Tampa Bay was allowing 29.2 points per game and 160 yards rushing. Finally, Morris had enough. He took over the play-calling duties on defense for the final six games.
Morris returned the Bucs to a one-gap scheme in their front seven and proved to be an effective play-caller. He will continue to run the defense in 2010, as the Bucs allowed just 17 points per game with Morris at the helm.
The Bucs also wasted most of the offseason and training camp in a pointless quarterback battle between Byron Leftwich and Luke McCown while Freeman and Josh Johnson got virtually no reps.
Leftwich won the job as starter and McCown was traded to Jacksonville for a sixth-round pick. But the Bucs lost center Jeff Faine in the first game, and he missed a month. Opponents just blitzed the A-gaps and trapped Leftwich, who went 0-3 before giving way to Johnson, who went 0-4.
Finally, with a bye week to prepare him, the Bucs gave Freeman his first start at quarterback. He won, upsetting Green Bay, leading the Bucs from 11 points down in the fourth quarter.
Freeman struggled as a rookie. He threw 18 interceptions and 10 touchdowns, winning three games and giving the Bucs a late lead in two other games that the defense couldn't hold. He showed a lot of poise under pressure and a big, strong arm. He looked like the real deal.
The Bucs can be optimistic about that and not much else. They have five of the top 99 draft picks, but their history of selecting players is not very good in recent times.
The owners don't seem committed to spending much money in free agency. Morris and Dominik will get one more season to get it right, but the Bucs have a very long way to go to make it back to the playoffs.
--The Buccaneers' apparent decision to part ways with wide receivers coach Richard Mann after eight seasons may impact their ability to re-sign free agent receiver Antonio Bryant. Mann has been given permission to interview with another NFL team.
Bryant, the team's franchise player who earned $9.88 million in 2009, struggled recovering from knee surgery and started just 11 games. He finished with 39 catches for 600 yards and four touchdowns.
Bryant said there were two motivating factors to remain with the Bucs. "My position coach (Mann) and Josh Freeman," Bryant said.
--Head coach Raheem Morris will continue to double as defensive coordinator.
"It is my decision," Morris said. "When I say I like doing it, it means I'm going to go back and look at the stats and look at the production and how helpful it really was. You want to evaluate yourself and look at these last (six) games.
"But I've got to be honest. It's a lot of fun. I'm having a ball."
The improvement after Morris took over the playing-calling duties from defensive coordinator Jim Bates was startling. In the first 10 games, Tampa Bay allowed 29.4 points and 378.3 yards per game. In the last six games under Morris, the defense allowed 17.2 points and 333.8 yards per game.
Morris claims one of the biggest adjustments was returning the Bucs to a one-gap system on the defensive front. But he still has the ability to mix it up.
"It was a learning experience for me," Morris said. "Do I like calling it? There's no doubt. Do I look back and say should I have called it from the beginning? There's no doubt. Would I have been able to do as much as I do now without that learning experience? I don't know."
The double-duty does put a little more pressure on his decision-making as the head coach, but Morris says it isn't anything he can't handle.
--One of the Bucs' biggest disappointments in 2009 was the play of safety Sabby Piscitelli.
The third-year pro played in all 16 games this season, starting 15, and had just two interceptions and three passes defensed. That's one more than Gaines Adams, the defensive end who was traded to Chicago in October.
"It's tough to do. You've got to be in better position to make plays," Morris said. "You've got to do a better job of making plays. That's what we've got to find out this offseason. We've got to go back to the board with him and fix him and deal with him. Because right now he's our guy, and we've got to go to war with him."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's funny, because before this, my all-time dream was to be a defensive coordinator like Monte Kiffin ... and die in my office." -- Bucs coach Raheem Morris.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Buccaneers are deciding on several possible changes to their coaching staff. Tampa Bay has granted permission for receivers coach Richard Mann to interview with another team. Defensive line coach Robert Nunn, defensive backs coach Joe Baker and offensive line coach Pete Mangurian could be among those not retained.