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Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris learns on the job

Raheem Morris, enjoying Sunday’s Bucs victory over the Packers, has gotten more strict in his first season as coach, but is mostly unchanged: “I’ve got to be myself.’’

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Raheem Morris, enjoying Sunday’s Bucs victory over the Packers, has gotten more strict in his first season as coach, but is mostly unchanged: “I’ve got to be myself.’’

TAMPA — Week after week, he left looking like the loneliest man on the planet. Just Raheem Morris with his disappointments, frustrations and regrets.

You think a losing streak is hard on you? Try reliving each loss a dozen times over in your head. Try enjoying dinner on a Sunday evening as your mind races from the week's preparation to the day's game plan to the dawn's postmortem.

He is an optimistic man, this head coach of the Buccaneers. Naturally upbeat, and forever confident. Yet even he is not immune from the doubts that arrive in the quiet of the night.

"After a loss, you sit there and mull over what you could have done differently," Morris said Monday afternoon in a hallway at One Buc Place. "I don't really like to play the blame game, so most of the time I'm judging myself. What I could have done differently, or how I might have failed to prepare the team. I beat myself up first. I can't go to sleep. I don't get much sleep at all, after a loss."

Morris pauses for a moment then breaks into a grin.

"Last night? I was toes-up by 9:30."

The second-longest losing streak in Tampa Bay history ended Sunday and, for a moment, so did the criticism of Morris. The landscape still has not changed. The Bucs are still mostly woeful, and Morris is still mostly unproven.

But, for a week or so, there will be a reprieve. A chance to step back and consider the larger picture. To contemplate the idea that a roster had to be remade and that losing would be the inevitable result.

The key is to recognize that Morris is not the coach he was eight weeks ago and is not the coach he will be eight weeks from now. The Glazer family took a risk when it hired a head coach based on his potential rather than his resume. So, in much the same way that Josh Freeman is beginning to learn what it takes to be a quarterback in the NFL, Morris is learning about being a head coach.

"He said coming in, 'Hey, I'm not totally prepared for this, either. I'm going to learn as I go.' And I'm proud of the way he has grown as a coach," linebacker Barrett Ruud said. "He's improved just like we're trying to improve. You can see it. Pretty much all the moves he's made have been in the right direction."

It has gone largely unnoticed outside the walls of a locker room or beyond the fences of a practice field, but Morris has grown more strict in recent weeks. He has abandoned the odd idea of music at practice. He has tightened the dress code at games. He has stopped calling players out publicly after less-than-hoped-for results with Gaines Adams.

"I think we had a vision of this team being young and loose and responsible. But our play on the field showed we weren't, so he made some little changes," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "If it's got to be a business, it's got to be a business. And that's a good thing."

For his part, Morris does not like to look at all of the changes as a shift in philosophy. They are merely adaptations for the moment. And the music and blue jeans may one day return if the team shows some responsibility on the field.

Still, he admits he has grown as a head coach and expects the learning curve to continue.

"I'm 33 years old; I've never been a head coach before. There is no manual for being a head coach. I'm kind of formulating it as I go," Morris said. "I have a lot of people in place to help me, a lot of people I trust. A Doug Williams, a Mark Dominik, a Jim Bates, a Greg Olson. All different walks of life, some young, some old; it's a beautiful mixture. You just have to be willing to listen.

"So I don't know that I would call it change. It's a natural progression in life."

It is a progression that has been seen many times before. Washington had a first-year coach go 0-5 in 1981. Dallas went 0-11-1 for a rookie coach in 1960 and 0-8 for a college coach in 1989. The Bucs were 0-5 in a coach's debut season in 1996. Kansas City started 2-10 for a CFL refugee in 1978. Somehow, Joe Gibbs, Tom Landry, Jimmy Johnson, Tony Dungy and Marv Levy recovered.

In no way is that meant to compare Morris to a group of Hall of Fame and Super Bowl coaches. It is simply to point out that a career should not necessarily be judged in its infancy.

Morris, like his team, has to get better. He has to find the balance between being a friend and a leader. He has to be a better evaluator of talent and character. He has to make better choices on gameday and be a little less carefree the rest of the week.

Still, the Glazers hired Morris for a reason. They saw something special in a largely anonymous assistant, and, based on their track record with Dungy and Jon Gruden, you may want to stick around for the results.

"I've got to be myself. If I was Bill Parcells, I would be (a different) coach," Morris said. "I'm Raheem Morris. If I'm coming in here trying to imitate Coach Dungy or Coach Gruden, that wouldn't be what this team needed, or what it respected or what it wants.

"If I was on the outside, I would question me, too. I'm 33 years old with a young football team and we're 1-7. That's the small picture. Until you look inside and evaluate what's going on and how the changes are coming. And I feel good about that. Because the way we want to go is the direction this organization is heading."

And does Morris realize how many people believe he is in over his head?

"Of course," he said, smiling. "That's great. It's only going to make it sweeter at the end."

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris learns on the job 11/09/09 [Last modified: Monday, November 9, 2009 10:37pm]
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