By RICK STROUD
Times Staff Writer
TAMPA â?” Raheem Morris is approaching the end of his two guaranteed years as Bucs coach.
There is an option for a third if the teamâ?™s owner, the Glazer family, exercises it.
According to Morris, ownership has not approached him about signing an extension. But after a 5-3 start with one of the youngest teams in the league, Morris said he isnâ?™t worried about his future.
â?œIâ?™ve been Mr. One-Year Contract Boy for a long time,â?? Morris said. â?œI kind of like being a free agent. It makes you hotter.
â?œA lot of people are not confident in that situation. But Iâ?™ve got a lot of confidence and belief in myself and in what weâ?™re doing that things will work itself out.â??
There are several factors the team must consider before deciding on exercising their option on Morris.
Start with the fact they still owe ex-coach Jon Gruden $5 million for the 2011 season.
Gruden, currently an analyst for ESPNâ?™s Monday Night Football, already is being mentioned as a candidate for the Cowboys head coaching job, among others.
If Gruden were to take an NFL coaching job, the team would be off the hook for his salary or would at least only have to make up any shortfall from his next coaching job.
The other factor is the uncertainty of the collective bargaining agreement with the playersâ?™ association.
The NFLPA has said it expects owners to lock out players when the current deal expires, after this season, and there is speculation that stadiums could be silent next season. Itâ?™s unlikely under that scenario the team would want to pay two head coaches not to work.
At 34, Morris is the youngest coach in the NFL. He went 3-13 in his first season but appears to have righted the ship.
After a 1-12 start, the Bucs won two of their final three games to end the 2009 season. But the turnaround actually began when then-rookie Josh Freeman took over at quarterback at midseason and Morris took over the play-calling duties on defense after 10 games upon dismissing defensive coordinator Jim Bates.
The Bucs allowed just 17 points per game over the final six games last season.
After 24 games, Morrisâ?™ record is 8-16.
One day after his rookie head coaching season ended, the Glazer family issued a statement saying Morris would return in 2010. At the time, there were reports the family had approached former Steelers Super Bowl coach Bill Cowher and inquired whether he planned to return to coaching.
â?œIt didnâ?™t bother me last year when I was supposed to get fired after season No. 1,â?? Morris said Thursday. â?œIt didnâ?™t bother me when they told me (Bill) Cowher was coming because he wanted to take my job. I said, â??He should want to take my job. Itâ?™s the best job in professional sports.â?™ Youâ?™re in Florida. Youâ?™ve got great weather. Youâ?™re in a great town and city.
â?œI donâ?™t believe in getting involved in all that stuff. Iâ?™ve got an agent for that.â??
Morris has never been short on confidence.
Two weeks ago, he proclaimed the Bucs the â?œbest team in the NFC,â?? then saw his team win 38-35 at Arizona. But he said he could no longer stand by that claim after his team lost at Atlanta 27-21 on Sunday to fall to third place in the NFC South.
But Morrisâ?™ success this season has surprised most pundits. In fact, several analysts on ESPN and the NFL Network have given Morris their vote for midseason coach of the year.
â?œIâ?™ve always believed if you do your job and what youâ?™re supposed to do, everything will work itself out,â?? Morris said. â?œThatâ?™s just kind of me anyway.
â?œI believe once you start working off fear or job security, you might be in the wrong business. You might not want to do what we do if thatâ?™s the case.â??
Rick Stroud can be reached at [email protected]