Raheem Morris, 32, joins growing ranks of coaches picked for their ability to relate to the players.
Published March 26, 2009|Updated Jan. 26, 2011

The new face of the NFL has no wrinkles, receding hairlines or graying temples.

The whiz-kid head coaches walk hand-in-hand with neck-turning wives or girlfriends, some pushing baby strollers. They sip from wine glasses instead of beer bottles, and their flat bellies are the benefactors.

The league's coaching fraternity has a bunch of new pledges, none younger than Tampa Bay's Raheem Morris.

"I blame John Madden," said the Bucs coach, who at 32 heads the influx of young NFL coaches. "He made that video game and he screwed up the young generation. They've been building franchises, they've been playing the game, they've been setting up plays, creating plays since we were about 12. So it's his fault. He ruined the league for older coaches."

Morris sat at the NFC coaches' breakfast Wednesday at the St. Regis Monarch Resort and Spa dressed in a tailored blue suit with a white dress shirt and silver cuff links. Not far was Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, 37, who last month became the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl and started the recent youth movement - although he won't take the credit.

"I don't," said Tomlin, who took over the Steelers in 2007. "I'm not so presumptuous to think that what I do on a day-to-day basis has any effect throughout this league. I don't view it in that way. I believe that the ownerships in those respective cities made the decisions that they believe are critical for them moving forward, so that's how I view it."

What buoyed the trend of hiring young head coaches such as Morris in Tampa Bay, 32-year-old Josh McDaniels in Denver and 42-year-old Todd Haley in Kansas City was the success of last year's rookie class.

The Falcons' Mike Smith (49), the Ravens' John Harbaugh (46) and the Dolphins' Tony Sparano (47) all led their teams to the playoffs last year as first-year head coaches.

"I'm personally happy it's trended the way it's gone here because it gave me a chance," Haley said. "I'm mad at those guys because it's like I told Mike last night - him doing what he's done in two years and Tony Sparano doing what he's done in a year and Harbaugh and the whole group set the bar really, really high. That hasn't been the standard, for teams winning one game one year and 11 the next. ... It's going to make life difficult for the rest of us."

If you exclude coaches-in-waiting such as Jim Mora in Seattle and Jim Caldwell in Indianapolis, the average age of the league's eight new head coaches is 42.

In Morris' case, the Bucs believed they needed someone who could better communicate with players. And with a 9-7 team about to undergo major personnel changes, they wanted somebody who was familiar with their young players.

Morris says his approach won't change much from when he coached defensive backs.

"Call it naive, call it young, this is how I look at it: I had 15 (players) before. Now I've got 66," Morris said. "I've got 66 DBs sitting in front of me and I'm going to approach it like that. ... I've always messed around with them in the locker room. I've always been demanding and they've responded."

To emphasize the youthfulness of the new NFL coaches also diminishes their accomplishments. It's not any different for general managers, such as 37-year-old Mark Dominik, who worked for 14 seasons with the Bucs before getting his shot.

"Some (young) general managers got opportunities last year and the success they had with their franchises helped a lot," Dominik said. "This game does evolve every day ... and owners and decisionmakers are looking at it from a player perspective. They feel like whoever is the best communicator is the guy who's getting it, and in our case it's Raheem Morris."