Is Raheem Morris the right man for the job?
The latest dose of failure was behind him now, and Raheem Morris was moving away from the football stadium like a man escaping a house on fire. Again.
Morris' sunglasses were backward on his head, which allowed the world to see a spark of annoyance in his eyes. His jaw was set, and his lips were tight, and he stepped quickly through the locker room and toward the getaway bus that would take him away from the carnage. Again.
For Morris, the man in charge of the answers, Sundays always seem to end like this. Five times he has coached an NFL game, and five times his team has lost. His defense is not getting better, and his offense is getting worse, and by now, double-digit beatings seem to be the norm. He is a winless coach, and for him and his team, Sundays are wasted afternoons.
All of this is on Morris, of course. Say what you will about the talent, and say what you want about his newness to the job, and say all you care to about how cheap the owners have become. It doesn't matter. In the NFL, coaches are judged by the scoreboard, and when a team is 0-5 and has lost by an average of more than two touchdowns per game, a coach's fingerprints are all over the disappointment.
There is no getting around it. In a profession that is judged by the scoreboard, Raheem Morris is off to a perfectly lousy start. Which, of course, leads the rest of us to a perfectly logical question: Raheem, is this a well-coached football team?
Morris pauses. He thinks for a moment. Then he gives you an answer that may be different in your home version of the game. "I think it's a really well-coached football team," he said. "We were prepared for all the blitzes, all the looks we'd get. Everything we saw, we knew we would get. Any time you put yourself in position to have double-teams on guys, and their guys make plays, it means they're a better football team, talent-wise.
"We have to find a way to get the talent of some of these teams so we can compete. We've got to get more talent. And we've got to get better play out of our talented guys."
That much is true. It has been years since the Bucs have added an impact player, and there are gaping holes in the roster. There hasn't been an opponent — even Washington — that would be willing to swap rosters with the Bucs. On this team, the blockers don't block and the runners don't run and the tacklers don't tackle and the pass rushers don't rush and the safeties aren't safe.
When the players don't live up to their job descriptions, losing is inevitable. Still, have you seen anything of Morris to suggest that we are seeing the first steps of a great coaching career? Is anyone convinced that he's the right man for the job?
That's what I thought. It's a simple job description. Coaches are paid to make good teams win or to make bad teams improve. They're paid to put players in the right position to win. They're paid to make sure errors are eliminated and progress is obvious. They're paid to plot a team's direction. They're paid because, let's face it, anybody could lose five out of five.
Morris? He's oh-for-all-time. Maybe you noticed. "At 0-5, you're disappointed," Morris said. "You're shocked. You want better for your team, because they are better. They have the talent to be better, and they know it. You can't leave a game with that many dropped passes, with that many missed opportunities."
What a dreadful way for a coach to start a career. Put it this way: Morris is off to a worse start than Detroit's Jim Schwartz, and Schwartz inherited a team that went 0-16 last year. He's off to a worse start than Denver's Josh McDaniels, and McDaniels chased off a franchise quarterback. For crying out loud, Morris is off to a worse start than the Raiders' Tom Cable, and he's accused of breaking an assistant coach's jaw.
Hey, this is Tampa Bay. Fans around here have seen Leeman Bennett coach, and Ray Perkins, and Richard Williamson. They know a bad plan when they see one. Yes, this is a bad team. Still, it should be better than this, at least every now and then. And that's where coaching comes into play.
Ask yourself this: When a team gives up so many deep touchdown passes, sometimes on plays that seem no more complicated than "you go deep," is it a well-coached team? When it can't figure out what to do on fourth and short, is it a well-coached team? When its best runner is a quarterback (Josh Johnson) and its best receiver is a tackle (Donald Penn), is it a well-coached team?
When every team it has played considers the game against the Bucs as the highlight of the season, is it a well-coached team? In the NFL, you can bench a quarterback, and you can cut a kicker, and you can replace a coordinator. Eventually, however, the criticism comes to the desk of the head coach. This time, too.
At this point, there is no way for Morris to avoid a bad year. But it would be nice to see some steady improvement. It would be nice to see some overachievement. It would be nice to see a victory or two. If Morris can't squeeze that out of his first season, who knows if there will be a second?
Gary Shelton, The St.Petersburg Times 12 October 2009