TAMPA — One day after Raheem Morris finished his first season 3-13, Bucs vice chairman Joel Glazer issued a statement supporting his rookie coach in an effort to pacify angry fans.
A year later, the only fury is to see how fast the Bucs can sign Morris to a long-term extension. Why? He led the Bucs to a 10-6 record and the biggest single-season turnaround in club history.
While the Bucs didn't make the playoffs, Morris can expect a huge payoff.
"When I talk to anyone publicly or privately, I think we have the coach of the year in the National Football League right here in this building," general manager Mark Dominik said of Morris. " … I think he's deserving of the award, and I think he's earned it.
"We put a lot on his plate this year, and he has absolutely handled it all, and certainly we are disappointed that we are not preparing to play the Philadelphia Eagles (in the playoffs) right now. At the same point, we all see where this ship is headed, and that is why we are all still excited about the plan that we started about two years ago and where it has gotten us to today."
Dominik said he will meet with the Glazer family in the next few weeks to discuss Morris' contract situation.
The Bucs can exercise their option for 2011 on Morris' original deal, but the team plans to try to sign him to a multiyear extension soon.
"Coach and I will sit down and go through the whole season, what it felt like, and we'll take care of the business," Dominik said. "But we'll handle it like a family would. We'll handle it internally to take care of it.
"Coach Morris has done a phenomenal job with this football team. … No one is worried about that."
Dominik declined to comment on his contract status Monday. Nothing is finalized, but talks have begun.
Despite joining the Giants as the first teams with double-digit wins to miss the playoffs in the NFC since 1991, the Bucs accomplished a lot with the league's youngest team. Ten rookies started during an injury-filled season, the most by a winning team since the merger in 1970.
With the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the players' union set to expire after March 3, owners could stage a lockout that might spoil the Bucs' momentum.
But whenever the team returns to work, Morris warned players not to be swallowed by expectations.
"I don't think we go out there and fly under the radar," Morris said. "We've got this little cocky coach who made statements like, 'We're the best' and 'Yeah, I said it.' I was Mr. Soundbite, so I don't really think we flew under the radar as much as people would like to say. We're entertainers. We're in the entertainment business. I don't have guys that like flying under the radar. (Offensive coordinator) Greg Olson is a rock star. Mark Dominik, we're young and dynamic, and we're not afraid to say it. We want to go out there and be great."
That's why Morris challenged his team to a "race to 10" wins, and it delivered with a 23-13 win over the Saints. But the Packers earned the final wild-card berth with a 10-3 win over the Bears.
"Yeah, we're racing to 11 next year," Morris said.
After the win Sunday, Morris told his players to remember what winning 10 games feels like and warned them against believing all the hype about their prospects in 2011.
"That was part of the message I gave them," Morris said. "You were 10-6, you got better, then the next year we can listen to you guys … giving us 12 wins."
The unsettled labor situation could delay offseason workouts — or prevent them. So Morris said he will rely on quarterback Josh Freeman to organize unsupervised workouts, not unlike he did before this season.
"That's part of drafting Josh," Morris said. "Some of the things we had to do around here in the past as coaches we won't have to because of that guy and who he is and what he wants to do. He's got special goals for himself, lofty ones, bold, arrogant, whatever you want to call them. But a lot of stuff will be on our quarterback, and he'll handle it. I have all the faith in the world in him."
The Bucs have a lot of issues this offseason, including 14 unrestricted free agents and numerous members of the coaching staff whose contracts expire, not including Olson and offensive line coach Pete Mangurian.
Olson said he marveled at the way Morris instilled confidence into 25 rookies who played large roles this season.
"When he stands in front of that team, everybody is behind Raheem Morris — offense, defense, special teams players, they're all behind Raheem," Olson said. "It's a credit to him to go through that season last year and keep them together and keep the belief. He's such a high-energy, positive guy. They want to see him succeed, and they put it all on the line to try to let him succeed. He's just got that infectious personality, good to be around. I'm sure they would tell you, he's a real good guy to work for."