TAMPA — It can be argued offensive line coach Pete Mangurian did his job better than any Bucs assistant this season.
Tampa Bay finished eighth in the NFL in rushing despite a slew of injuries and a revolving starting lineup that included two rookie linemen. More important, franchise quarterback Josh Freeman stayed mostly upright for 16 games.
In the trenches, the Bucs were ready for any situation. But there's no way Mangurian was prepared for what happened Friday.
Tampa Bay abruptly fired Mangurian, three days after coach Raheem Morris said his coaching staff was set for 2011 except for two openings on defense.
The dismissal caught center Jeff Faine off-guard.
"I think he was a good coach, and I wish him the best," Faine said. "I'm not sure what, if anything, happened upstairs (in the front office)."
More specifically, Mangurian, 55, might not have meshed well with offensive coordinator Greg Olson and other coaches.
Tampa Bay is expected to move swiftly to interview Vikings offensive line coach Pat Morris, who has a history with Olson. Morris was the offensive line coach for the Lions in 2004-05 when Olson served as quarterbacks coach and later offensive coordinator under coach Steve Mariucci.
Mangurian joined the Bucs in 2009 under then offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski to implement the zone blocking scheme.
After Olson took over as offensive coordinator, 10 days before the 2009 season, the Bucs have gradually gone back to more of a power running scheme.
Last season, Tampa Bay suffered injuries to four starters on the offensive line. Only left tackle Donald Penn started all 16 games. The Bucs lost Faine, guard Davin Joseph and tackle Jeremy Trueblood to injuries.
Mangurian certainly got the most out of his line last season as the Bucs averaged a franchise-best 4.6 yards per carry. Rookie LeGarrette Blount led all first-year running backs with 1,007 yards, the first time since 2005 the team had a 1,000-yard rusher.
Tampa Bay also got solid performances from several backups: center Jeremy Zuttah, rookie guards Ted Larsen and Derek Hardman, and tackle James Lee. Mangurian was among the few assistants on the Bucs' staff already under contract for 2011.
He worked closely with Olson, who will have input on the next hire at that position.
Pat Morris, 56, has directed the league's No. 1 rushing attack three times in his career (1998-99, '07) and ranked in the NFL's top 10 on eight occasions.
In 2008, the Vikings' strong rushing attack was responsible for a 10-6 record and the NFC North title. Running back Adrian Peterson set a club record by leading the league with 1,760 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. In '07, the Vikings had the league's top running attack with a team-record 2,634 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns.
The Bucs have three openings on staff: offensive line, defensive line and defensive quality control. Raheem Morris said Tuesday that the team had re-signed running backs coach Steve Logan and tight ends coach Alfredo Roberts.
In the end, it appears Mangurian wasn't able to do with the staff what he preached to his offensive linemen: work together.