The team is at practice, and the defensive coordinator is down the street having lunch at Boston Market.
Nothing strange about that. No sir. Not when your team is 1-9, your owners are the kings of clandestine, and your offensive coordinator was shown the Boston Market door before the season even began.
In this, perhaps the silliest of all Buccaneers seasons, there is no decision too bizarre to contemplate. The trick is looking beyond the surface and trying to figure out the motive behind the move.
For instance, why did the Bucs choose Week 11 to demote Jim Bates?
Is it because his schemes do not fit the talent on the roster? Heck, they knew that nine months ago when they hired him. Is it because the players were ready to revolt? The head coach insists that was not the case. Is it because the Bucs are running out of time to make their playoff push? Okay, so maybe that was a tad cruel.
The point is, this seems like a desperate move. And so I wonder if it was the work of a desperate man.
Raheem Morris has been the picture of confidence in his first season as an NFL head coach. He doesn't look rattled, he doesn't seem uncomfortable. He has made mistakes, and he has acknowledged most of them without rancor.
But you have to assume he is feeling the pressure of his predicament. He can look around Raymond James Stadium and see all of the empty seats. He can look at the field and see a team that has been blown out of three games and beaten soundly in several others.
He can look up at the owner's box and wonder if the Glazers aren't second-guessing their decision to hand their billion-dollar investment over to a 33-year-old with limited experience.
If you look at the Bates demotion from that perspective, than the move makes total sense.
And if you listen to Morris' words, there is plenty of room to read between the lines.
"It's what I owe this organization, it's what I owe this town, what I owe this ownership, what I owe (general manager) Mark Dominik, everybody that's involved with me," Morris said. "It's my job to fix it, and that's what I've got to go out there and do."
Which is another way of saying he plans on going down swinging.
Look, there is no way this season can be saved. The Bucs will not finish .500 and they will not make the playoffs. Taking Bates off the sideline is not going to transform this defense into the Pewter People Eaters.
But what if the Bucs can finish 3-13 instead of 1-15? What if they get hot and go 4-12?
In the grand scheme of things, a couple extra victories don't mean squat. But do you suppose the Glazers might be more inclined to buy into what Morris is doing if he can show improvement in the season's final month? Do you think he has a better chance of sticking around if he points out the team won a handful of games with Josh Freeman at quarterback?
Maybe it won't matter, and maybe Morris isn't really worried about it. But it sure looks like a guy who has talked about patience and development and loyalty is forgetting all of those concepts to win as many games as possible in the next six weeks.
"Raheem wanted to take it upon himself to turn this team around," cornerback Ronde Barber said, "and I'd like to think that's what he's doing."
Morris knows how he got this job. He remembers Tampa Bay's collapse in December of last season. And I'm sure he recalls how Bryan Glazer acknowledged fan dissatisfaction played a role in Jon Gruden's dismissal.
The Glazers are not foolish, and they are not impulsive. They had to understand there was a strong chance the team was going to take a step backward this season as the roster was remade with the future in mind.
But they are also businessmen, and they can not be happy with a dwindling season ticket base that will surely take another big hit in 2010. If Morris does not give them anything to sell to fans in the coming weeks, they might be tempted to go hunting for a big-name coach such as Bill Cowher or Mike Holmgren or Mike Shanahan to rebrand their product.
On the surface, Morris doesn't seem concerned by the thought. He talks with the same confidence as always.
Yet a longtime defensive coordinator is dining alone, and a football team is getting a mid-season makeover. Maybe it's not panic or a shot in the dark. Maybe the Bucs just think changing direction in late November is really no big deal.
Or maybe Raheem Morris figures desperate times call for desperate solutions.
John Romano can be reached at [email protected]