Not everyone was happy when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fired veteran head coach Jon Gruden and replaced him with Raheem Morris—a 32-year-old defensive backs coach with no head coaching experience.
Even fewer were pleased by the new staff’s decision to release respected veterans and beloved Bucs like Derrick Brooks and Warrick Dunn—both of whom are older than the team’s rookie head coach.
Assumptions aside, however, it’s much more difficult to be critical of Morris in person.
The first-year head coach certainly has a positive presence about him. His attitude is one of confidence and determination, and he walks and talks like a guy who knows what he’s doing.
According to quarterback Luke McCown, Morris is a straight shooter. He tells it like it is, and his players respect that.
Morris has made it clear that he prefers an open competition when it comes to the starting jobs up for grabs this season, and referred to the team’s quarterback battle as “One bone, five dogs, let the best man win.”
While Gruden was often criticized for his overly complicated West Coast system, his stubbornness, and an unwillingness to develop young quarterbacks, Morris and new General Manager Mark Dominik have taken proactive steps to address those criticisms.
Morris says he wants the Bucs to play “violent football” this season, and brought in former Boston College head coach Jeff Jagodzinski to implement a simpler offense that revolves around a physical downhill running game.
Morris believes it’s no coincidence that some of the league’s best teams are also the most physical, citing the recent success of the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants.
Under the new staff, the Bucs also used the team’s first-round draft pick on 6’5” Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman—who Morris dubbed the future of the franchise.
Furthermore, the rookie head coach has also proven to be a clever disciplinarian.
Following an off-season scuffle between second-year cornerback Aqib Talib and offensive tackle Donald Penn, Morris scrapped his practice plans for the following day and held a special teams practice—otherwise known as a sprinting and conditioning session—which he called “Wefense.”
So how did Raheem Morris end up on the fast track to a head coaching job in Tampa Bay?
Well, Morris first joined the Bucs in 2002 as the defensive quality control coach—the guy who breaks down film of future opponents and preps the scout team.
He was then promoted to defensive assistant in 2003, and served as the Bucs’ assistant defensive backs coach from 2004 to 2005.
In 2006, Morris took his only hiatus from Tampa Bay when he was hired as the defensive coordinator at Kansas State.
After helping the Wildcats improve in several statistical categories in his first season, Morris rejoined the Buccaneers in 2007 to serve as the team’s defensive backs coach—Morris was a safety himself in his playing days at Hofstra.
Morris coached the Bucs’ secondary until the end of the 2008 regular season, when he took over defensive coordinator duties for the departing Monte Kiffin, who left to coach with his son Lane Kiffin at the University of Tennessee.
Morris, who also interviewed for the head coaching vacancy in Denver, was promoted from within once again and named the team’s eighth head coach on Jan. 17, 2009.
But he won’t have to do it alone. Ironically, the offensive and defensive coordinators Morris brought to Tampa Bay are probably more qualified to be head coaches than he is.
Jagodzinski, who takes over the offense, was fired after two successful seasons as the head coach at Boston College from 2007 to 2008. At Boston College, Jagodzinski coached current Atlanta Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan—the NFL’s 2008 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year.
BC decided to cut Jagodzinski loose not because of his performance on the field, but because he was actively looking for new opportunities off it. Jagodzinski interviewed for the New York Jets’ head coaching position, and was let go soon after.
Jagodzinski worked his way from college to college as an offensive line coach early in his career, landing positions at Northern Illinois, Louisiana State and East Carolina before he was hired as Boston College’s offensive coordinator and offensive line coach in 1997.
From 1999 to 2003, Jagodzinski worked his first gig in the National Football League as the Green Bay Packers’ tight ends coach.
Jagodzinski took the same position with the Atlanta Falcons in 2004, and was promoted to offensive line coach in 2005 before returning to Green Bay to serve as the team’s offensive coordinator in 2006.
Green Bay’s offense ranked ninth in yards per game under Jagodzinski, but 22nd in scoring, averaging just 18.8 points per game.
In Tampa Bay this season, Jagodzinski hopes his zone-blocking scheme will jump-start the Bucs’ running game and create opportunities in the passing game to stretch the field.
Jagodzinski’s offenses produced balanced results at Boston College, and he’s known for getting a lot of players involved—particularly in the passing game.
Joining Jagodzinski is first-year offensive line coach Pete Mangurian, who is proficient in the zone-blocking scheme and holds 18 years of coaching experience in the NFL.
Running backs coach Steve Logan—the offensive coordinator at Boston College the last two seasons—and tight ends coach Alfredo Roberts, who coached recent trade acquisition Kellen Winslow in Cleveland the past two seasons, will also enter their first seasons with the Bucs in 2009.
Meanwhile, quarterbacks coach Greg Olson returns for his second season in Tampa Bay, and longtime wide receivers coach Richard Mann returns for his eighth season with the Bucs.
On the defensive side of the ball, 17-year NFL veteran Jim Bates takes the reigns for the Buccaneers.
Bates will implement his run contain system in Tampa Bay this season, though Morris has said Bates would also like to mix in aspects of the Tampa Two defense, which the Bucs have had a lot of success with over the years.
Bates previously led Denver’s defense for a year starting in 2007, but left the team in January of 2008.
Without the necessary personnel, his system was largely ineffective in Denver. The Bronco’s gave up an average of 25.6 points per game in 2007, and ranked 28th in the league in scoring defense.
Personnel needs for Bates’ defense are also a concern in Tampa Bay. While the Bucs have made personnel moves to accommodate needs at linebacker, questions remains as to whether the defensive line can hold its on within the scheme.
Prior to taking the job in Denver, Bates served as the defensive coordinator in Green Bay in 2005 and was with the Miami Dolphins from 2000 to 2004, including a short stint as the team’s interim head coach.
Over the years, Bates also worked in various positions for the Cleveland Browns, Atlanta Falcons and Dallas Cowboys.
In Tampa Bay, Bates’ staff will include linebackers coach Joe Barry, who returns to the Bucs after a two-year stint as Detroit’s defensive coordinator, first-year defensive backs coach Joe Baker, and defensive line coaches Robert Nunn and Todd Wash.
In all, the Tampa Bay coaching staff has a lot of work to do to prepare the Buccaneers for a tough 2009 schedule that looms just a few months away.
With Morris’ drive and his staff’s experience, however, I wouldn’t put it past this rag-tag group of newcomers and veterans to get the job done and give Bucs fans something to cheer about in the near future.
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