Q/A: Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Raheem Morris on players, progress, perceptions and more

NEW ORLEANS — A coach pulls his team from the bottom of the division to the brink of the playoffs. He increases the wins from three to 10. He convinces his team to buy into his message.

And what does he get in return?

He gets to wait.

For now, Raheem Morris is more of an evaluator than a coach. His players are locked outside the facility while the negotiations continue for a new agreement between NFL owners and players.

So Morris works on the draft, and he breaks down tape, and he waits for the smoke to clear.

Sometimes, he talks.

Early Tuesday morning, Morris sat at a large round table in the middle of a meeting room at the annual winter meeting coaches' breakfast, talking about players, about progress and about perceptions with a half-dozen reporters, most of them who cover the NFC South.

Pull up a chair, won't you?

Q: Considering how much progress was made last season, does the lockout this off-season threaten the progress of the Bucs?

A: "The obvious downfall, when you're talking about the state of the league right now, is that you're not able to see your players as much as you did last year. It really hasn't affected us so far. Right now, we're just missing the guys being in there to lift. So we'll see. We're just concentrating on the draft and bringing in more people who can help us win."

Q: Is your job easier because of the success this team tasted last year?

A: "I don't want to say it's easier to be a head coach. The (players) have a direction, they have a plan, and really they should have the hunger because they didn't get in (to the playoffs). All that stuff can go to your head as well. If we sit around and read a lot of articles from people saying how good we can be, we might not reach that potential. If we're not readying ourselves to go out and win a championship, then we won't be ready."

Q: How are your injured players progressing in their rehabs?

A: "Right now, you don't know. We have some major injuries to come back from with (Aurelius) Benn and (Kareem) Huggins. Some of the others are ticky-tack ones that we have to fix. To get Aqib (Talib) and Gerald McCoy back will be like getting extra No. 1s in the big picture."

Q: Is it too simplistic to say you need a defensive end with the No. 20 pick?

A: "I think so. We had the pick at 20 a couple of years ago, and the whole town wanted a defensive player. The whole media wanted a defense player. And we (moved up and) took Josh Freeman. No one understood it at the time. ... I really believe you take the players you want. You don't force it. It eliminates a mistake you can possibly make."

Q: What are your expectations for next year?

A: "Expectations for me will never change. I'm always in search of championships, different forms of them. Division championships, conference championships and hopefully, the world championship. There is no reason we can't do it. It's the 'Why not us' mentality."

Q: Do you look back at losing the Detroit game?

A: "Not just the Detroit game. I think about all of them. The fourth-and-inches at Atlanta. The third-and-20 they hit in the second game against against Atlanta. The (offensive pass interference) call against Detroit. The play Calvin Johnson made against Detroit. There is always something to look back at in a loss, except the two where we had our butts beat against New Orleans and Pittsburgh. But even in that Pittsburgh game, you can see the missed opportunities we had. ... But you can do the same with the games you won. You can look back and see where you could have lost. That's the beauty of our game."

Q: The Bucs have had a off-the-field incidents, like those involving Jerramy Stevens, Tanard Jackson and Aqib Talib. How do you discipline players?

A: "I'm never going to be a coach who disciplines publicly. We do almost everything in house. It's a family matter. I don't like to embarrass people's families because of one mistake or two. It keeps the mud from being thrown on any single guy and alienating them from the team. The clear message is easy. You have to straighten up or you won't be here long."

Q: Do you have a gut feeling of how long the lockout might last?

A: "I'm very hopeful. I've got a positive outlook. My pay grade does not allow me to talk to lawyers. I'm kind of like you guys. I watch the ticker."

Q: What about free agency?

A: "The best part about it is that we have the plan laid out. We want to draft our guys and resign them, and then do what we need to do. It's no different than when our ownership went out and got Simeon Rice and Brad Johnson and Keyshawn Johnson and Keenan McCardell to push that team over the top a little. We may be nearing that plateau at some point."

Q: Are stats really for losers?

"At the time I said that, I was thinking about the Patriots teams that were 20th in offense and 20th in defense but won the Super Bowl. I'll talk about stats when I'm out of the game and you're writing stories and I'm bragging about what I've done. ... I have an empty trophy case, and I'll keep throwing things in there. In a couple of years, we'll talk about the things that are in there. But right now, for me, it's about whether we won or whether we lost. I have an emotional bank account that's empty."

Q: Does it change your psychological approach that people are saying Tampa Bay is a frauds, that they didn't beat teams with a winning record?

A: Only if you count New Orleans as a mirage. I think every team in this league is a talented team that can go out and win on any given Sunday. I watched the Browns beat the Patriots after we beat them."

Q: There has been talks about the Bucs being the team on HBO's Hard Knocks this summer. Would you want that?

A: "I don't know. There are a bunch of positives, some negatives. I'm about promoting the beauty of our league. It's something out there in the air. I don't shy away from anything. I want the world to know Josh Freeman, and some of these young players who make plays for him."

Q: Do you think the Bucs will end up with prime-time games this year?

A: "I feel confident we'll see some prime-time games. If we don't get them, we'll continue to win in non-prime-time games. There is no better prime time than the playoffs."

Q: How do you improve the pass rush?

A: "It's go to be a better coaching effort on my part, better schemes on my part and more accountability on our defensive line. We don't point fingers. We're very confident we're going to get better."

Q: Did the Bucs exceed your expectations last year?

"I thought we were capable of more. I thought we were capable of shocking the world and doing some dynamic things. It was exciting. It was a good start."

Q/A: Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Raheem Morris on players, progress, perceptions and more 03/22/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 6:30pm]

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