Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris not prone to caving in

TAMPA

He has been practically reduced to a Jay Leno punch line on talk radio. Questions from the media are growing more pointed by the day. A Sports Illustrated online piece this week included him among the NFL's worst coaching hires in the past quarter century — after only three games. Yes, it's tough being Raheem Morris these days. The Bucs' rookie coach has been much maligned and at 0-3 should expect nothing less. But even at 33, the league's youngest head coach defiantly says he is built to withstand these trying times.

"For the most part, it's about mental toughness," Morris said Thursday. "I'm not built like a loser, I guess. But I'm not spoiled, either. I'm not one of those people who react like, 'Man, I've never lost before.'

"What I would say is that I guess I'm not afraid to get my back dirty.

"You know there's people out there talking about you," he said. "People say you shouldn't read it, and you don't need to hear it. It doesn't bother me one bit. Not one bit.

"If we started off 3-0, you'd be telling us how great we are. Should I listen to that? If we were 3-0, would I feel like we were going to the Super Bowl? No. It's the same thing."

That's the sort of even-keeled approach Morris learned as a young defensive back at Hofstra, playing a position in which one bad snap can overshadow an otherwise sparkling performance.

Not that playing college ball ever could have prepared him for the embattled existence of an NFL coach.

"I don't think there's any school, there's no example — there's nothing you can do that will prepare you to (be a coach) in this league," he said. "I don't even think being a college head coach prepares you for this.

"I don't know if you're ever prepared until you're put in the position to do it. The men always come out at that point. Rod Marinelli is no less of a great coach because he went through what he did in Detroit. It probably made him tougher."

Morris is clearly hoping for a better outcome than Marinelli, the former Bucs assistant who was 10-38 in three seasons as Lions coach, including 0-16 in 2008. Morris, after all, considers losing to be a miserable experience, even if his carefree demeanor doesn't always indicate as much. But he abides by an important principle: He doesn't let the despair linger.

"When I lose, I'm (ticked) off for about 12 hours and then, at some point, I snap out of it," he said. "Once I move on, I move on. I don't have time to gripe about it because Sunday is coming up fast. If I'm still griping on Thursday, then I'm probably not going to be prepared for the Washington Redskins and (coach) Jim Zorn. Every Sunday, you want to try to avoid feeling those 12 hours of misery. That's what snaps me out of it."

Setting aside the pain, however, is not synonymous with forgetting it. Morris made his NFL debut during the most successful season in franchise history, but he can still recount every painful moment from that year.

"We didn't win every game around here in 2002," said Morris, who was a defensive quality control coach during that championship season. "We had four losses, and I still remember every one of them right now. I felt like the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the heck out of us that year and there was no way we were winning the Super Bowl. That was probably one of the most miserable games of my career."

Like the Bucs did after that 17-7 December loss, Morris moves on. That's the message he emphasizes to players, too.

"He preaches confidence," receiver Michael Clayton said. "If you drop a ball, if you mess up, you just make up for it. He doesn't curse you out. It's not about that with him. It's about moving on. You have to be strategic with that stuff."

Said Morris: "I can take criticism, man. You can't control people's opinions. My friends used to ask me when I was an assistant, 'Hey, aren't you mad about the game?' Yeah, I'm mad, but this is life, man. You have to move on.

"I go back to when I was little. When I think back to that, I was the cat who, no matter how big you were, I wasn't running. At some point, I was going to catch you slipping. And that has to be our mentality right now."

Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris not prone to caving in 10/02/09 [Last modified: Friday, October 2, 2009 12:49am]

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