Nice win for Morris, but Bucs should still give Cowher a call
At what point, do you suppose, did the Glazers hang up the phone? Was it when the comeback began at the end of the second quarter, or did they wait until it was completed in overtime? Did they tell Bill Cowher they had another call on Line 2, or did they just pretend the signal was dropped? And, furthermore, will they ever call back?
For, this morning, the world may appear somewhat different to the Glazers than it did 24 hours ago. The Buccaneers had their most impressive victory in ages on Sunday, and coach Raheem Morris has never looked so sturdy on a sideline.
And, in the end, that may prove to be the greatest comeback Tampa Bay has ever known. Two weeks ago, Morris appeared to be heading toward head coaching obscurity. His team was 1-12 and had been embarrassed by the Jets at home. Attendance was sinking fast, and complaints were riding high.
The future had grown so cloudy for Morris it was no surprise when reports surfaced that the Glazers were already canoodling with Cowher. And then a funny thing happened Sunday. The Bucs beat New Orleans in one of the NFL's biggest upsets of recent seasons.
And, just like that, the season took on a new tint. The victory against Seattle a week ago didn't look like such a fluke. And the competitive performances against Miami, Atlanta and Carolina began to take on the appearance of a trend.
And the need to find a new coach no longer seemed so urgent. So does that mean Morris is definitely back? My guess is that still hasn't been decided.
And, honestly, I'm not suggesting the Glazers were actually reaching out to Cowher during Sunday's game. But I'm not sure I would believe any blanket denials either. You might recall some years ago, the owners insisted they never had contact with Bill Parcells when it seemed obvious there had been some heavy breathing on one end of the phone.
This time around, I'm not sure I would blame the Glazers for making the call. Did you know Cowher is one of only a dozen coaches to have 10 or more playoff seasons? And did you know that not one of the other 11 is currently walking an NFL sideline? In other words, having a chance to hire Cowher is a rare opportunity.
And since it is the job of the people in charge to always look for better alternatives, the Glazers need to consider this. And let's face it, hot December or not, there is far more reason to believe in Cowher's long resume than in Morris' lone season. Heck, Morris has benched and released enough players in the past 10 months to understand that part of the business.
So it makes sense to call Cowher and gauge his interest in returning to the sideline. And to gauge his interest in Tampa Bay. And to figure out his salary demands, and the amount of control he is seeking.
If it all works out to the Glazers' satisfaction, they should seize the opportunity. But if they don't get the answers they want from Cowher, they should feel far more secure about bringing Morris back for a second season.
Look, there was never an expectation that Morris would lead this team to the postseason in 2009. Not while breaking in a rookie quarterback, and not while shedding so many fading veterans. Instead it was Morris' responsibility to begin the overhaul of a franchise, and to get Tampa Bay moving in the right direction. And, at this point, it appears he has done that.
And though last place can be a lonely outpost, there is something to be said for finishing with a bang. Particularly since the last coach was fired, in part, because the team faded in the final weeks of the most recent seasons. Already, these Bucs have won as many games this month as the last three Decembers combined. The question is whether he has shown enough potential to outweigh the 3-12 record.
By now, it is hard to argue that the Bucs haven't been a better team in the five games since Morris took control of the defense. Yards allowed are down, and scoring has been cut nearly in half. Tampa Bay has won two games and could easily have won two others. They are 3-5 since Josh Freeman took over at quarterback, another point to be made in the argument that this team is moving in the proper direction.
It is not quite as emphatic as Tony Dungy's first season here when the Bucs won five of their final seven games, but it's beginning to have that feeling of a franchise on the upswing. Geno Hayes is making big-impact plays. Cadillac Williams is moving with grace and speed. And Freeman's arm and composure make you wonder just how far his talent can take him.
Years from now, if all goes as Morris hopes, the New Orleans game could be the first chapter in a coach's memoir. This could be the moment when a career's trajectory took a sharp turn. In the end, this victory did not redeem a lost season. But it may have saved a wobbly career.
John Romano, The St.Petersburg Times 29 December 2009