TAMPA — Coach Raheem Morris kept repeating during the season that the Bucs were a team that couldn't be ignored.
But after directing the biggest single-season turnaround in club history, it was impossible to overlook the job Morris did as well.
On Saturday the club picked up a two-year option on his contract, worth $2 million per season.
Morris, the youngest coach in the league at 34, led the Bucs to a 10-6 record with the NFL's youngest team after going 3-13 in his first season as coach.
The Bucs ended this season with wins over Seattle and at New Orleans but joined the New York Giants as the first NFC teams with double-digit wins to miss the playoffs since 1991.
Morris' new deal includes incentives that could pay him as much as $7 million over the next two years based on performance. The team had two weeks after the season ended to pick up the option.
"Much deserved," center Jeff Faine said of his coach's new deal. "He has made changes and done a spectacular job with a very young team. He has a general manager in his corner making great decisions. … I feel fortunate to be on a team that will win a Super Bowl in the next couple years.''
General manager Mark Dominik made it clear after the season that he believed Morris was the coach of the year.
"When I talk to anyone publicly or privately, I think we have the coach of the year in the National Football League right here in the building," Dominik said Monday. "We put a lot on his plate … and he has absolutely handled it all."
The Bucs are close to finalizing terms of a two-year contract option for Dominik as well, but they have made no official announcement.
Despite a slew of injuries that claimed many of his best players, Morris exceeded expectations this season. Ten rookies started, the most by a winning team since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. Tampa Bay finished the season without defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price, cornerback Aqib Talib, safety Cody Grimm, linebacker Quincy Black, guard Davin Joseph, receiver Arrelious Benn and Faine.
But Morris pressed on. After a 5-2 start, he proclaimed his team the "best in the NFC." The Bucs lost close games to the Falcons twice and stumbled in overtime to the Lions. But they rallied to beat the Seahawks and Saints, playoff teams that met Saturday in the NFC wild-card game.
Morris' biggest contribution came two years ago when he convinced the Bucs to trade up two picks in the 2009 draft to select Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman 17th overall. Morris spent one season with Freeman when Morris was the Wildcats' defensive coordinator in 2006.
Freeman, 22, in his first full season as a starter in 2010, passed for 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions, the ninth-best touchdown/interception margin in league history.
Running back LeGarrette Blount led all rookies in rushing with 1,007 yards and receiver Mike Williams led all rookie receivers with 65 receptions for 964 yards and 11 touchdowns. Williams is the first rookie to have double-digit touchdown receptions since Randy Moss in 1998.
In his first season, Morris wound up firing both coordinators and took over the defensive play-calling duties the final six games of the season. He doubled as the team's defensive coordinator in 2010 and his impact on the team grew because of it.
Morris surprised detractors when he challenged his team to be in a "Race for 10" wins. But the Bucs completed that task with a 23-13 win over the Saints on the final day of the regular season.
But Green Bay kept the Bucs home for the playoffs, earning the final wild-card spot.
"Yeah, we're racing to 11 next year," Morris said Monday.
Rick Stroud can be reached at email@example.com.