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Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris learned a lot in 2009

Bucs coach Raheem Morris says he is better equipped to deal with the ups and downs he experienced during his first season.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times (2009)

Bucs coach Raheem Morris says he is better equipped to deal with the ups and downs he experienced during his first season.

ORLANDO — Bucs coach Raheem Morris looks back at the 2009 season and doesn't view it a whole lot differently than you. When he reflects, he feels immense disappointment after a 3-13 season.

But Morris is quick to put aside those emotions because he believes what he gained during those rough times will help ensure they never occur again.

As prepared as he thought he was in his first season as coach, Morris now candidly admits the task was daunting and his best-laid plans were anything but.

"You have to go out there and find your niche," Morris said Wednesday, the final day of the NFL owners meetings.

That took some doing.

"When you're at home and you're dreaming about being a head coach and you're in charge … you think, 'This is how I would do it,' " Morris said. "I was of the belief that you go out and you get veteran coordinators. You let them do their job. That's not necessarily how it played out at the end of the season."

Morris, along with general manager Mark Dominik, fired offensive coordinator Jeff Jagod­zinski 10 days before the regular season. In November, Morris took over defensive play-calling from coordinator Jim Bates.

"There is no handbook on your desk when you get there that says, 'Hey, Raheem, you're a defensive guy, call (the defense) right from the beginning and don't waste your time,' " he said, joking. "You do what you think is right at the time."

The story illustrates Morris' point: He is better equipped to handle the job after the ups and downs of his rookie season.

"My passion was being able to control a game from a defensive perspective and still being a part of the offense and special teams," said Morris, whose coaching background is exclusively on defense. "Now … it's an opportunity for me to get better and an opportunity for me to grow.

"I look forward to the second year."

But that's not to say the job that lies before Morris is not labor intensive. Climbing out of the cellar in the NFC South will be a heavy workload, particularly with a team that remains extremely young and hasn't added many playmakers.

But Morris assures anyone who asks that the Bucs will be a different club coming out of next month's draft, in which they have 11 selections. And he has no problem putting great responsibility on the shoulders of quarterback Josh Freeman, who is entering his second year.

He draws comparisons between the makeup of this team and the ones that former coach Tony Dungy began assembling in the mid 1990s, just before the club began a perennial playoff run.

"You've got a chance to come and watch it all develop," he said of Tampa Bay fans. "You've got a chance to watch Josh Freeman turn into what he's going to be and watch these young guys around him turn into what they're going to be. You've got a chance to watch a team grow and develop just like '96 to 2002. (From) the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the past to eventually becoming that dominant powerhouse that you hopefully get to be."

The Bucs will be different and, perhaps, better in the fall. They have the third pick in the draft, a more mature quarterback and continuity in their offensive and defensive schemes.

But equally important will be the growth of the man pushing the buttons. That's where the reflection on last year is crucial.

"Those were the growing pains," Morris said. "I wanted to make this year better, and I believe that's what we've done."

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris learned a lot in 2009 03/24/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 24, 2010 11:47pm]
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