An improved Raheem Morris deserves to stay on
Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times, published 4 January 2010

The criticism does not find its way in here. The thick, yellow walls shut out the sound of discontented fans, and the police officer at the door stops all of the rumors.

It was 45 minutes past the latest disappointment, and down a long, narrow hall from the locker room at Raymond James Stadium, Raheem Morris stood outside his office and talked of a season that left his team behind. His back was to the wall, and his eyes faced forward.

He did not flinch. He did not blink. His future is open for discussion, and yet, he did not seem particularly nervous about it. Here, at least for now, he is still the coach of the Bucs.

The season was finished now, and with any luck, it will be quickly forgotten and never brought up again. There is no way to pretty up a 3-13 record, especially not when a team has just squandered its last chance for a last victory. After all, 3-13 was the record that once cost a Bucs coach named Richard Williamson his job. Last season, Jon Gruden won three times as many games, and that cost him his job.

Naturally, the questions will turn to Morris' job security. Will he be back? Should he be back? And when will the Glazers get around to clearing their throats?

The questions are obvious, and yes, they are fair. No one should get a pardon for losing 10 more games than he won in a season. No one should be happy that the second half of the season didn't stink quite as badly as the first. It was an awful season, and parts of it were like watching fruit rot. And despite it all, I would bring Morris back.

I would bring Morris back because he's a better coach than he was six games ago and because the Bucs are a better team. I would bring him back because the players still seem to believe in him. I would bring him back because, when you look at the talent, what did you expect?

At this point, it would be hard to blame the Glazers if they disagree. Look, none of us knows if the Glazers really made a phone call to ask about Bill Cowher's availability, but who could blame them? In the business of pro football, teams are always looking to upgrade. That's true if it's the Bucs' overrated offensive line, and it's true if it's the offensive coordinator, and it's true if it's the head coach.

But barring the availability of Cowher, I would stick with Morris. Especially if I were one of the guys who hired him in the first place.

Really, what did anyone expect? You hire a 32-year-old coach before he was ready, and you ask him to learn on the job, and you strip away the veterans, and you turn over today to tomorrow's quarterback. How many victories does that sound like to you? How much learning on the job do you think it's going to take?

The truth is that Morris might still be fired. Few people know what the Glazers are saying, and no one knows what they are thinking. Last year, the Glazers waited 18 days after the season before pushing Gruden off the plank. If you are Morris, you might wait a while before you exhale. On the other hand, Morris doesn't exactly seem worried about it.

"Your job is to coach until they tell you stop," Morris said. "You guys could get fired tomorrow, too, but no one is asking you that question. Both my pop and my mom were laid off when I was 13 years old, and no one told them they were going to get fired. That's just the reality of the world we live in. You deal with your job. If I'm sitting around worried about my job, I've got my own issues."

His is not an easy job. It wears on him. He looked tired, if you want to know the truth. "I let it wear on me, because I feel like I can get the best out of any situation," Morris said. "The deal with me is that I've always been blessed with the ability to remain unwavered under adversity. As the adversity came, I kept finding answers for myself, for my team.

"As a team, we stayed motivated. I don't think we had a team that laid down. I don't feel that feel of a quit team or of a team that thought it had no hope. No matter what the record was, we felt we could go out and win."

By the end of the season, Morris seemed more comfortable and more confident on the sideline. Like any rookie, he got better as the season went along.

"I've said it before. There is no handbook on being a head coach. There is nothing to study for," Morris said. " You just go out and do it. And when I say this job is not for everyone, I mean it. You have to be a mentally tough bastard to go out there every day and grind it and battle in the heat."

He is a better coach today, he admits. His decisions come quicker. His clock management is better. His team is more competitive. Since he took over as defensive coordinator, he seems to have his fingerprints on the team.

Ask yourself: Are you better changing coaches now? Especially if the other choice is the coordinator of a team with his own set of questions? So, Raheem, you ask him. Are you the best man to coach this team? He smiles. Do you expect him to say no?

"Until someone tells me I'm not, I had better be," Morris said. "My job is to give them everything I have. I did that, and I'll give them more."

Today, however, the question is whether they will give him more time. And, hopefully, more talent.