Any time a player gets in trouble off the field, it reflects poorly on the entire franchise. In most cases, the head coach is the one who sets the tone and, ultimately, the one responsible for the actions of his players.
In Tampa Bay, Raheem Morris was under the microscope last season as the Bucs had a series of off-field problems. Now, things have intensified with cornerback Aqib Talib dealing with a serious legal issue, after a series of other problems including one that caused him to be suspended for the first game of last season.
Morris has been accused by some fans of running something of a loose ship. What’s he got to say about that and about character in general?
Well, even though the league’s in a lockout right now and the Bucs could only issue a short and very general statement on the Talib situation, it just so happens that Morris talked at length about such matters at the NFL owners meeting in New Orleans last week and I just pulled out the transcript.
One note before we get to what Morris had to say, this all came before Talib’s latest problems became public.
“Everybody in our league has issues,’’ Morris said. “For us, it’s about who we bring in and how we can control those guys. We look for captains (on college teams), guys with high upstanding quality. Every once in a while, you get a guy who’s not kind of the upstanding kind of guy that you want, and his talent surpasses some of the things that you may settle for. And you’ve got to figure out when you can take him, when you cannot take him and the calculated risk you take as an organization.
“Myself and (general manager) Mark Dominik hold ourselves accountable for helping those young men come along. But we can’t raise them. We can only pick them, get them in the building. You’ve got to be harsh. Unfortunately, Jerramy Stevens is not on our football team anymore. Unfortunately, Tanard Jackson had to sit out a whole year. I’m never going to be a coach who disciplines publicly. We do almost everything in-house.’’
Morris said he’s talked to his team frequently about avoiding off-field problems.
“The clear message is: you’ve either got to straighten it out or you won’t be here for long,’’ Morris said. “It’s the Not For Long League. Unfortunately, we had a few players learn the hard way. Fining guys is how I help the community. I’m highly involved in our player development program, how they’re handling their family life at home. I tell them, come in my office on Friday and let’s rap. You’re trying to help develop young men. Somebody’s got to do it and I don’t just put it on my player-development guy. I try to be active and lead them.’’