Raheem Morris stands accused. When a losing coach becomes a repeat offender, that usually happens.
In this case, Morris is accused of a petty offense, and in response, he offers a weak defense. His team has been accused of assaulting the senses. Breach of promise — in particular the one about competing for the division title — seems evident.
This is nothing new. When a team runs afoul of the league standings, the head coach is always the usual suspect. He is, after all, the ringleader.
So who is to speak on Morris' behalf?
Well, maybe me.
I'll be honest here. I would love to offer a defense of Morris, if only I had one. Whatever else you might say about Morris, he's a good guy, and he works hard, and he cares about his team. Besides, I'm a bit of contrarian myself. I would love to argue his case.
As it turns out, I'm going to need a little help.
This is what strikes me as this season enters its final quarter. How do you defend what the Bucs have become? Losing games is bad, and losing direction is worse, and losing momentum might be worst of all. From the looks of things, next year could be just as bad as this one, which might be the most serious allegation of them all.
So help me. We all like to think we have a little bit of lawyer in us, the same way we like to think we have a little bit of rock star or a little bit of stand-up comedian. How can we possibly build an argument that the Bucs should re-Rah?
The "not-enough time" strategem?
No, three years is enough time even for an organization that drafted as poorly as the Bucs did during the Bruce Allen years. You can name a dozen NFL coaches who were fired after two seasons, a dozen more who were fired after one.
Remember Chan Gailey of the Cowboys? He was banged after two years, and his team made the playoffs in both. The Packers fired Ray Rhodes after one year even though he went 8-8.
This isn't saying that Morris' time has run out. But he has had enough time to develop more than this.
The "we're barely out of our teens" argument?
Yes, the Bucs are so young that the team movie is half-price. That's true. On the other hand, the Packers were young last year, and they won the Super Bowl.
Besides, youth is the grand design here, remember? A team doesn't get to plot a youth movement and then use it as an excuse when things don't go right. It was the Bucs, no one else, who decided not to bring in more veterans.
The "lockout killed us" defense?
In hindsight, this certainly didn't help the Bucs. On the other hand, Carolina was locked out with a new coach and a rookie quarterback, and the Panthers are better. San Francisco was locked out, and a new coach has resurrected Alex Smith's career.
The "it isn't just him'' gambit?
Are there others to blame? Absolutely. This isn't Morris' failure alone. This is a failure of the franchise. There hasn't been enough money spent, enough veterans brought in or enough standards that were high enough.
That said, that's usually the case when a coach doesn't win. It's rarely one guy's fault. Teams usually win because their organizations are good, and they usually lose for the same reason.
The "where were you in 2010" maneuver?
Does last year's success help Morris? Sure, it does. If you're fair, everything is part of the discussion.
The trouble is the team doesn't look as if it is responding to Morris in the same way this year. The week-to-week improvement is no longer evident. Even worse, there is more of a disconnect this year. Even Morris has suggested his team isn't listening. Discipline has been a problem. Effort has been a problem. Playing smart has been a problem. Those are areas where a coach makes a difference.
No, last year's success doesn't erase this year's backslide.
The "give it another year" ploy?
Morris has another year on his contract, and one guesses that the Glazers are probably a little weary of paying two coaches at a time.
Still, what are you going to do if you want to stir the gate or rekindle interest from the community? Hire a defensive coordinator? Replace an offensive coordinator?
Here's the thing: Morris has great energy, but so did Jon Gruden. He is a good guy, but so was Tony Dungy. His team is young, but so was Ray Perkins'. He'd like more time, but so did Richard Williamson.
Again, I'm serious about this. I have criticized Morris from time to time, but I would like to offer a sound, inarguable reason why the Bucs should bring him back. That's how disappointing this season has been. Even those who are inclined to defend Morris are having a difficult time doing it.
Could things change over the next four games? We'll see. The Bucs need to be a lot more disciplined. They need to show enough improvement to make you think they could be better next year. That means winning at least three of the final four.
Would that be enough for you? Would that be enough for the Glazers? No one knows.
If you are a coach whose future is in doubt, however, there is only one piece of evidence that matters: