TAMPA — In what might be a preview of his end-of-the-year address, instead of listing things he would like to fix next season, Bucs coach Raheem Morris on Friday sounded like a pitchman for season tickets.
When asked what he would be most proud of if the Bucs fail to reach the playoffs today, Morris said, "I guess you've got to say how hard they played and how exciting they were."
"I heard for a long time how boring we were to watch, and this year, we're far from that. I've seen flea-flickers, I've seen onside kicks, I've seen games come down to the wire, I've seen clutch comebacks from our big-time quarterback. I've seen LeGarrette Blount fly through the air like a superhero. I've seen the defense go out there and play hard in games. I've seen shutouts.
"You've seen it all this season when you talk about Tampa Bay Buccaneers football, and we're proud of that, and we want to keep continuing to do that."
Regardless of today's outcome against the Saints, it certainly will be different from what Morris experienced after going 3-13 in his first season.
A few hours after his final news conference following a loss to the Falcons in 2009, Morris received a vote of confidence from the Glazer family in a statement confirming he would return for 2010.
Now Morris is a legitimate NFL coach of the year candidate after improving the Bucs to 9-6 (and counting) in his second season with a chance to reach the playoffs.
The Bucs will exercise an option on the contracts in 2011 for Morris and general manager Mark Dominik, if not sign them to long-term extensions. But Morris' coaching staff is another issue.
Many of the Bucs' assistant coaches do not have contracts for next season. But contrary to reports, offensive coordinator Greg Olson and offensive line coach Pete Mangurian are under contract with the Bucs for 2011, a team official said.
That continuity is particularly important for QB Josh Freeman. At 22, Freeman has passed for 3,196 yards with 23 touchdowns and six interceptions this season. His 93.6 rating is better than that of the Saints' Drew Brees (92.2) and the Falcons' Matt Ryan (89.8).
The lack of a new collective bargaining agreement, which expires March 3, has caused a lot of uncertainty, not only among players but assistant coaches. But once the Glazers deal with Morris and Dominik, they will move quickly to lock up members of the coaching staff.
As for the players? They might not be allowed to spend much time with coaches this offseason or work out at One Buc Place.
Players fear owners will lock them out of training facilities after March 3, and a long and contentious negotiation over the spring and summer could be on the horizon. That could particularly be hurtful to the Bucs, who have the youngest roster in the NFL but won't be able to benefit from developing as a team in the offseason.
"Everybody wants to know, what's next?," said C Jeff Faine, the Bucs' union representative. "We're about to be locked out of the building. Our key cards are not going to work anymore. We've got to prepare for that."
Payton's passion: By now, you might have seen the video of Kenny Chesney's The Boys of Fall, which has had more than 4.5 million hits on YouTube.
The video begins with Saints coach Sean Payton giving a passionate pregame speech to the football team at his alma mater, Naperville Central High School near Chicago, just before the 2009 NFL season.
Payton said he had not been back to his high school in 27 years but took a day after the end of training camp to help with the project.
"It was one of the older schools in town; they were playing a crosstown rival, one of the new schools, relatively," Payton said. "Central was the heavy favorite with the more established program, and I really just jotted a few notes down that I thought (were) pertinent to high school seniors in regards to sports, and it really wouldn't just be football players, but it happened to be the football team, and (I) spoke from the heart about that. The speech was so good, we were down 17 points at halftime.
"Now, the good news is, on the last play of the game, they threw a touchdown to win the game 24-17. The whole time in that first half, when they fell behind 17-0, I just kept thinking what a distraction this was for them. The video crew is there; they're sending requests in from the opponent if they're allowed to be in the video. As a coach, it was probably your worst nightmare."