INDIANAPOLIS — Raheem Morris sat inside a coffee shop at the Omni Hotel in Indianapolis, just a long punt from Lucas Oil Stadium where the NFL scouting combine is being held this week.
Speaking at length with the media for the first time since Jan. 4, the day after the Bucs' final regular-season game against Atlanta, Morris looked relaxed and confident.
Why shouldn't he be? The youngest head coach in the NFL survived a brutal rookie season in which he fired both coordinators, spun a roulette wheel of three quarterbacks and lost his first 10 games before finishing 3-13, the Bucs' worst record since 1991.
But armed with franchise quarterback Josh Freeman and committed to building through the draft, Morris said the Bucs' are not where they were last year.
"We really have the ability this year — (general manager) Mark (Dominik) and myself — to tell you with straight faces, that we're light-years ahead of where we were last year, just based on knowledge, based on what we've been able to partake, our own film study, our own tape, our own reports — all those things that are critical," Morris, 33, said.
"It's got to translate onto the field. I'm not going to sit here and act like you go 3-13, and just because you're getting better and competitive every game, that's acceptable. There ain't no way."
In a 40-minute interview, Morris touched on plenty of topics, from Freeman to his job security.
What's the biggest lesson you learned in your first year?
The biggest lesson I learned was making decisions and doing what you believe is right. Because the wind blows in all different directions and you can't worry about the wind. You've got to do what you think is right. If you go down, go down swinging. Let's go down like Joe Louis.
It's been great because right after the season at the end of (2008), it was, Raheem, prepare to be defensive coordinator. Okay, great. Raheem, prepare to be Denver's head coach. Okay, great. Raheem, go back and hire coaches on your defensive staff. Raheem, now you're the head coach of the Bucs. You're into the press conference. What are we going to do? Who's the quarterback?
What mistakes were made with the coordinators?
We wanted to be smart about it. I'm a young guy. There's no secret about that. It's the first time I'm doing it. I wanted to get some guys with some head coaching experience. I wanted to get some guys who had been through that fire a little bit but have also called games before and able to do that stuff. I thought I had that in both those guys. This is no knock on those guys; it just didn't work out for whatever reasons. And I had to make some tough decisions to make changes, and I did.
What's the plan going forward?
Our objective is for a long-term winner. That's all our owners talk about. That's what myself and Mark Dominik talk about, and that's what I preach to our coaches. We're setting ourselves up for a long-term winner, and the only way you do that is to build through the draft, and you start getting guys that you draft to come to your team and become your Pro Bowlers.
What would be a successful season?
We've got to do better and we can; we can this year. I don't want to be the naive coach or the cocky, arrogant, young guy who says you're going to win the Super Bowl next year. … Because I've got to believe that in my heart. I believe that we have the guys in place, that if we do the right things, we can win a significant amount of games to put ourselves in a position to compete with anybody.
What did you make of the Glazers' statement confirming you would remain as coach?
I got no problem with the way they work. At the end of the season, they came to me and said, "Hey, Rah, you're our guy. Don't worry about it. Go coach. Move on."
Why do you think there was speculation about your job and not the coaching jobs in Detroit and elsewhere?
I know why there's no talk about (Jim) Schwartz and there's no talk about (Browns coach Eric) Mangini. It's because I've got the best job in football. We're in Tampa. Everybody wants my job. Every coach who's retired or out of football wants my job.