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Youthful Morris take reins of Bucs

TAMPA — The rapid rise of Raheem Morris reached its pinnacle Saturday after the Buccaneers made the 32-year-old the youngest head coach in the NFL.

Morris was as short on specifics as he is experience. His preferred system of offense? One that scores touchdowns. Players he wants to keep or the members of the coaching staff who might go elsewhere? Decisions to be made later.

Displaying the giddiness of a lottery winner, the excitable Morris sped through his first news conference, slowed only by a few goose bumps.

"Our players," Morris said before pausing. "Wow! My players. I'm just really fired up for this opportunity, and I can't wait."

Morris, who was the team's defensive backs coach a month ago, takes over from Super Bowl winner Jon Gruden, who was fired Friday along with general manager Bruce Allen.

Bucs co-chairman Joel Glazer said Morris is just what the Bucs need after the Gruden era ended with four straight losses, denying a team that started 9-3 this season a place in the playoffs.

"Raheem can relate to today's NFL player," Glazer said. "The game has changed a lot. It's always changing. If you don't adapt to those changes, you can't compete."

Morris still appeared stunned by his ascension. He was named defensive coordinator on Christmas Day and interviewed for the Denver Broncos' head coaching vacancy about 10 days later.

On Friday, Morris said, he was on his way to get a haircut when the Glazers summoned him to their office and offered him the head coaching job.

"It's really hard to even imagine right now," Morris said. "I'm so fired up."

The New Jersey native, who had never been a head coach at any level, telephoned his mother to break the news. She had always wanted him to be a teacher, and he once turned down a $35,000 job in Long Island to earn $5,000 as an assistant defensive backs coach at Cornell after graduating from Hofstra, where he played safety.

"Mom, don't answer your phone, turn your cell phone off and just lay in your bed," Morris said he told his mom. "It was, 'Why?' I said, 'Because every writer in the country is about to call you. Because I just became the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.' And there was just silence."

Morris will work closely with new general manager Mark Dominik, who has been with the team since 1995 and was named Saturday to replace Allen.

"Both these men have Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their DNA," Glazer said of Morris and Dominik. "They're youthful and energetic, and both rode a clear and steady path from the bottom to the top."

The news conference was attended by several former and current Bucs players, including Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber, Warrick Dunn, Jermaine Phillips and Mike Alstott.

Many of those players watched Morris' career path: from a defensive quality control assistant in 2002, to the assistant defensive backs coach who eventually succeeded current Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, to a one-year hiatus from the Bucs as Kansas State's defensive coordinator and finally two years ago as the team's defensive backs coach.

"I think him being the head coach is going to change him individually," Brooks said. "He's still going to come in and have his jokes, have his smiles. At the same time, when it's time to be serious and things need to get done, he's going to be able to do that. And as one of the leaders on this team, I've got to make sure that happens from a player's standpoint that when it's time for business, we're here to work."

Morris said the promotion was "bittersweet" because the opportunity came at the expense of Gruden. He said Gruden sent him a text message telling him to "run with" his new position and that Allen was supportive in a telephone conversation.

Make no mistake, Morris will put his own spin on things.

"Yes, they're going to give me a dap (fist bump) instead of a, 'How you doing, Coach?' " Morris said. "Yes, I'm going to give them a chest bump instead of a that-a-boy. We're going to have fun because that's who we were."

Morris, who is 5 months younger than recently hired Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels, admitted that the Glazers' decision to name him head coach might be perceived as a risk.

"Man, they took a great risk at trading away two (first-round) draft picks when they hired Jon Gruden," Morris said. "Risk is involved in everything. We went out and won a Super Bowl that year, and I'm very proud of it. The Glazers are not afraid of risk, obviously, and neither am I.

"I took a risk taking $5,000 to take my first coaching job after graduating from college, and my mom looked at me like I was crazy. But it is what it is."

Youthful Morris take reins of Bucs 01/17/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 20, 2009 8:57am]
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