Raheem Morris sat on the edge of an overstuffed black chair in the private, upstairs loft of a sports bar and restaurant in South Tampa. Two flat-screen televisions hung from the wall in front of him. • From this perch, he could hear laughter, the clink of beer glasses and music being enjoyed by the patrons below. • "This is my office away from my office,'' Morris said. "This is where I come after games to be absolutely miserable. When we lose, I come up here and I'm miserable by myself. When we win, I'm down there celebrating with everyone else. • "I haven't been downstairs in quite awhile.'' • Morris hasn't been part of a celebration since Oct. 16, when the Bucs beat the Saints 26-20 to improve to 4-2. • Fresh off a 10-6 season in which his team narrowly missed the playoffs, Morris was, literally, the toast of the town.
The Glazer family, which owns the Bucs, told Morris they had anticipated only about six wins and said it was one of the most enjoyable seasons they've had in football.
But after nine consecutive losses, beginning 24-18 to the Bears on Oct. 23, Morris bashers are going hoarse, calling him a clueless coach who needs to be fired after today's season finale at Atlanta.
"Last year, you could say we overachieved,'' Morris, 35, said. "This year, you could say we underachieved. But I don't worry about what's going to happen. You've got to keep trucking. Don't worry about it. Don't blink.''
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Before the start of the season, the Bucs decided not to take advantage of an unprecedented glut of more than 500 free agents. They included two of their own, middle linebacker Barrett Ruud and running back Cadillac Williams.
"I think the lack of veteran leadership across the board could've hurt us,'' center Jeff Faine said. "I admire the aggressiveness of the front office and wanting to build the right way. With that, I think there would've been some value in sprinkling in some veteran leadership and keeping around some guys who maybe don't fit in that philosophy of building organically.''
Morris said he made it clear he wanted Ruud to return for at least one more season. He said his plan was to play Mason Foster, a third-round pick from Washington, at strongside linebacker while learning from the Bucs' four-time leading tackler.
Ruud wound up signing a one-year, $4 million deal with the Titans, starting 10 games while mentoring their fourth-round pick, Colin McCarthy. Foster battled ankle injuries to start 14 games and lead the Bucs in tackles. But he also struggled in nickel situations and quarterbacked a defense on pace to allow the most points in franchise history.
Instead of re-signing Ruud, general manager Mark Dominik, after conferring with Morris and the coaching staff, re-signed linebacker Quincy Black for five years and $29 million. Black was to be used as an edge rusher on passing downs. But linebacker Dekoda Watson was better at it, and Black also got lost in coverage.
Offensive coordinator Greg Olson lobbied for the return of Williams, who signed a one-year deal with the Rams. But the Bucs opted to give the job to third-year pro Kregg Lumpkin, acquired by Dominik off waivers from the Packers in 2010.
Lumpkin wasn't ready to make that leap, and Earnest Graham moved from fullback to tailback until he tore his right Achilles' against the Bears.
"It's hard to come into this league as a rookie and know how to do it, know how to win,'' Faine said. "I look at that running back room. I look at that wide receiver room. There's some talent there. Is there a voice in there that's been through some ups and downs, that knows how to handle winning, knows how to handle losing?''
Season-ending injuries to Graham and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, occurring a week apart, also contributed to the tailspin.
Faine said Graham's injury had a devastating impact on running back LeGarrette Blount, who was benched last week after fumbling the Bucs' first offensive snap of the game at Carolina. It was his fourth lost fumble of the season.
"I called (Graham) the MVP of this team before," Faine said. "He was a great voice of reason and leadership for LeGarrette Blount. I know how much that guy meant to LeGarrette Blount personally. And I saw how much that injury affected him in England on the sideline. To lose a guy like that is a great example of how valuable veteran leadership is in each room.''
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Also glaring was a lack of depth. Too often, when players such as McCoy or Brian Price became injured, the Bucs were forced to go with waiver claims or guys off a couch.
But Morris said once the Bucs decided on how to structure the team, he didn't look back.
"It's not about doing anything (front office executives) say. It's about what you agree on and what you want to do,'' Morris said. "I have a job just like everybody else has a job. You've got to go out, and you've got to execute it.''
Morris' fingerprints are all over the Bucs' record.
Tampa Bay has committed 28 turnovers during the losing streak, is third in the league with 121 penalties committed and — perhaps most damning for Morris — has lost its past four games by an average of 23.5 points.
"I'm sure there are things I'd do differently,'' Morris said. "Obviously, when the season ends and it's all said and done, that's something I'll go back and reflect on and think about.''
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Sometime early this week, Morris will have to face the Glazers and, maybe, make an argument for why he should return for the fourth and final year on his contract.
"I'll tell them you've got the same young guys that won 10 games,'' Morris said. "You've got guys coming back off injured reserve. You've got guys you're going to add to your roster through the draft and, hopefully, through free agency. Let's go out here and try to do it again. Hopefully, we can build this team the way we wanted it to be, a lasting contender.''
In the meantime, Morris can't help but feel isolated.
He was alone for Christmas. His 20-month-old daughter was in Iowa visiting grandparents, and Morris' parents spent the holiday in New Jersey.
"I had to go home and lay on my couch and be miserable,'' Morris said.
Fortunately for him, his friend, Lee Williams, challenged him to a one-on-one basketball game on Christmas Day.
Morris won 8-4.
"I had to get a win against someone,'' Morris said.
Morris hopes for another celebration this afternoon. He'd like the good times to roll again.
But what if they don't? What if the Glazers tell him they've decided to go in another direction?
"I'll shake their hands,'' Morris said, "and tell them it was the best opportunity of my life.''
Rick Stroud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @NFLStroud.