TAMPA — Raheem Morris was fond of imploring his players to be strong-minded, to avoid mental weakness and to be flexible when unexpected situations arose.
Whether they took those lessons to heart on the football field is debatable, considering Morris was fired on Monday after going 17-31 in three seasons as the Bucs' coach.
After being jolted by Morris' dismissal, players immediately put his principles to use.
"We know it's going to change," defensive tackle Brian Price said. "Like Coach Raheem always said, 'You just have to deal.' There are a lot of lessons we can take from Coach Raheem. That's one of the phrases I'll always take with me. Also, 'Don't blink.' This is our job. This is what we signed up for. You have to adapt."
"I wasn't surprised," said veteran running back Earnest Graham of Morris' dismissal. "We know how this works with the way we finished the season. Under the circumstances, I don't think anybody can expect to have a job after this."
Players will have to adapt to a multitude of changes during this transition period. There will be a new coaching staff, including position coaches and coordinators. And the roster is going to change, perhaps markedly.
That realization was dawning on players Monday. Price described many players as "shell shocked" as the news no one considered a surprise became reality. For many players on the youngest roster in the NFL, Morris has been their only pro coach. He means a lot to them personally and professionally.
"No matter whether you expect it or not, it's always a shock," Price said. "He's the only coach I've known in the NFL. I mean, he drafted me. And he didn't get the job for no reason. But during that (10-game) slide things didn't go our way. I wish I could take all the blame instead of him."
Graham, who has been with the Bucs since 2003, also experienced Jon Gruden's firing after the 2008 season.
Graham, who was placed on injured reserve after tearing his Achilles' tendon in Week 7, said players bear much of the blame for the 10 consecutive losses.
"We're all in this together and the blame has to fall on everybody,'' he said. "It wasn't totally our fault and it wasn't totally Raheem's fault."
Center Jeff Faine, a team captains, hoped Morris got another shot at being a head coach.
"I think Coach Morris is an improving head coach," he said. "One positive thing is he's always improving. The hand he was dealt was a difficult one. I think he did the most he could with it."
Reached by phone, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy declined to talk, but later shared his thoughts on Twitter.
"Prayers and love go out to Raheem Morris, the coach who believed enough in me to draft me. Wish him all the best," McCoy wrote.
Receiver Mike Williams, a 2010 fourth-round pick, said on Twitter: "A part of my family is gone. But just know this, you will always be my family."
Rays manager Joe Maddon, who has become close with Morris in recent years, was upset at the news of his dismissal.
"Rah is a good friend, along with several staff members. I know how hard Raheem and the staff worked, and how much they care. I am sure it will all work out for the best, it's just tough to absorb when it is so fresh."
After a 4-12 season, players wonder if more moves await.
"There are going to be some guys who might not be here," Graham said. "That's the league, man."
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @HolderStephen.