TAMPA — Raheem Morris is aware of reports that Monte Kiffin may join his son, Lane, at the University of Tennessee next season.
But he hasn't volunteered to drive the Bucs' defensive coordinator to the airport. Nor has he stuffed newspaper in the toes of the size XXXL shoes Kiffin may leave behind.
"You listen to it," said Morris, the Bucs' 32-year-old defensive backs coach, of the talk of Monte Kiffin leaving. "The thing you can't do is get caught up in it.
"You're talking about arguably the best of all time at that position. You let it play it out."
At the same time, Morris isn't one to walk away from a challenge as big as replacing Kiffin.
"It's the same thing I've had to do my whole career. Why would you work after Mike Tomlin?" Morris said. "Why would you go to K-State after Bill Snyder has retired and they can't win anymore? You can't be afraid of challenges. Not with the mind-set you have to have to win in this league."
Morris is a rising star in the NFL coaching business, and he knows it. A protege of Tomlin, a former Bucs defensive backs coach now the Steelers' head coach, he joined the Bucs in 2002 as a defensive quality control coach. The next year he was a defensive assistant, then helped Tomlin until Morris joined Kansas State in 2006 as defensive coordinator.
Realizing their mistake, the Bucs lured Morris back by making him one of their highest-paid assistants. Last season, the secondary improved from 19th to first in the NFL. It currently stands third.
But he doesn't have a contract for next year. Didn't want one.
"Why am I a free agent? It's just my choice," Morris said. "It's nothing with the Buccaneers. They've been awesome. I just chose not to put myself in a position to lock myself up.
"If the opportunity presents itself, I just wanted to have the choice (to go somewhere else). It's no secret they'll make the choice for you. And that's fine. I don't think there's anything wrong with that, and they've done a great job with the coaches. All the guys they've held back have become head coaches or have become coordinators. So they've done something right."
It's not too farfetched to suggest, with as many as 12 head coaching jobs possibly available after the season, Morris could bypass coordinator and interview for a top job.
"I don't know. There's a lot of guys that have done it without (coordinator) experience," Morris said. "But it's about leadership and how you direct your team and becoming a great teacher. Hopefully, I have some of those characteristics. That's why people mention me in that category. It's a passion thing. If you have that, you can become a head coach. If you don't, you won't."
All that is known about Kiffin, 68, is that he will remain with the Bucs until their season ends. He has two years remaining on his contract, and team officials say they know the outcome.
Lane Kiffin, who was introduced as the Vols' coach Monday, won't comment on the staff he is assembling because many of its members are under contract to other teams.
Morris isn't wondering whether the Bucs will ask him to succeed Kiffin if he leaves.
"That's not up to me. I can only control the things I can control," Morris said. "My job is to be a defensive backs coach right now, and I've got at least four games to do it. That's all you're promised is 16. So I've got at least four games to be the best defensive backs coach I can be."
There have been no substantive talks on a new contract between the Bucs and Morris.
"I've got no ill will. I've got no negative feelings," he said. "I just don't even want to put myself in a position to be bitter. So I won't be. Shoot, I might choose to be the defensive backs coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers no matter what my opportunities are. It is what it is. I love my job. I've got the best job in the business."