TAMPA — The Happiest Coach in the Whole NFL moved gleefully across the new field, all sunshine and blue skies. If there were any hint of dark clouds on the horizon, Raheem Morris did not seem to notice.
He was a man in his element, grinning and shouting and pumping his fist, moving in and out of his merry band of Bucs. From the looks of things, Morris seems to enjoy this head coaching bit.
Other places, people are frowning.
Here, Morris cannot get the smile off of his face.
Other eyes see doom and gloom, and other voices project worry and woe. In the coming year, projections say, the Bucs are going to be awful. Not just bad, but miserable. We're talking worse-than-Detroit bad. We're talking worse-than-Oakland bad. We're talking about who-brought back-Richard-Williamson bad.
And still, Morris keeps grinning. No one is keeping score yet, so perhaps it is the eternal sunshine of the spotless record. Perhaps he knows something no one else knows.
"It's the media's job to have low expectations," Morris, 32, said. "It's my job to change them."
Say this for the new coaching staff. If volume counts, they've got plenty of it. At times, Wednesday's Organized Team Activity (translated: voluntary practice) had the sound of a pirate movie, a coarse mixture of loud voices aimed in various directions.
In the middle of it was Morris, as good-natured and boisterous as always. This is his team now, and yes, things are going to be different. The quarterback is different. The offense is different. The defense is different.
The goals, Morris said, remain the same.
"You can't worry about other people's expectations," Morris said. "We have our team goals, and our team goals are to win championships. NFC South championships. Conference championships. World championships. When we start thinking about those as our goals, we've got issues.
"We've got some players here. We've got enough. We've got to make it enough."
But can they? Let's be honest, the skeptics have some ammunition. Where are the Bucs better off than they were last year? Tight end, perhaps, if Kellen Winslow ever shows up. (What? Was he afraid he would make a good first impression?) Running back, maybe.
It is understandable, then, that people look at the Bucs and somehow resist the urge to break into applause.
For instance, Jason Cole, the NFL columnist of Yahoo.com, has the Bucs ranked 32nd in his power poll. If the league expanded, perhaps he would have ranked them 33rd.
Andrew Perloff of SI.com projects the Bucs to finish the season with the No. 3 draft pick. That usually means 2-3 victories. Todd McShay of ESPN has them picking 12th, which usually means 7-8 wins. Peter King of Sports Illustrated ranks the Bucs 26th in his power rankings (usually about five wins). Pete Prisco of CBS Sportsline ranks them 22nd (about seven). Bodog.com makes them 40-1 to win the Super Bowl, and only nine teams have higher odds.
In other words, here's what outsiders expect from the Bucs in 2009:
Such is the challenge in front of Morris. Oh, everyone likes him, and everyone chuckles when he quotes Jay-Z. It's just that a lot of people in a lot of positions have a lot to prove before he can succeed.
"There have been low expectations since I got here," Morris said. "Expectations were low in 2007, and we went to the playoffs. Expectations were low last year, and we won nine games."
Perhaps you have the same concerns. If you glance at the resumes of the quarterbacks, there are questions. If you remember the defense of the last month of last season, there are questions.
When you look at this team, Raheem, do you see 3-13? Do you see 4-12?
"No," he answers. "I'm never going to see that."
Do you think the defense is better than most people seem to think?
"We're going to be sound," he said. "We're going to know what to do. We're going to play fast. We're going to play hard. We're going to hustle, and we're going to hit. I expect the defense to score and to get the ball back to our offense. If we do that, we can be an excellent defense."
In a way, perhaps the low expectations are a favor for the Bucs. That way, it takes less to be seen as an overachiever.
Soon, however, someone will turn on the scoreboard. Soon, the games will start. After that, we can only hope that Morris is still smiling.