Thursday, September 3, 2009
Doubts getting deep in Tampa
By Pat Yasinskas ESPN.com
Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris (left) is raising eyebrows after the sudden firing of offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas
TAMPA, Fla. -- I’m writing this from the luxurious media room at the palace that is One Buccaneer Place. But suddenly it feels like I’m back in that lovely little trailer that used to house the media when the Bucs were headquartered at their not-so-palatial compound right off an airport runway.
Anybody seen Sam Wyche?
Those days of “Wicky Whacky Wyche,’’ as he was dubbed by a radio announcer, seem to be back. Children of all ages, welcome to the circus.
Just when you thought the days of then-quarterback Trent Dilfer muttering something about Barnum & Bailey at the end of the Wyche tenure were long forgotten, it’s looking like a big top has been thrown over Raymond James Stadium.
The relative calm ushered in by Tony Dungy and Rich McKay and carried on, to some degree and perhaps only by extension, by Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen seems to be gone. Is it only a matter of time before Raheem Morris has his team practice its halftime routine and publicly tells wide receivers not to drop their paychecks, the way Wyche once did? Are the Bucs back to the point where they’re only entertaining because of a comedy of errors as they pile up double-digit losses?
Since the January day when the Bucs made Morris, then 32, the league’s youngest head coach, I’ve been trying to give the guy every benefit of the doubt. There long has been a school of thought that Morris and general manager Mark Dominik are in way over their heads.
It’s getting real difficult to argue that point. The latest evidence came Thursday morning (just a few hours after kicker Matt Bryant basically ripped anyone in his path) when the Bucs fired offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinki, the same guy they gloated about getting back in January. In simple terms, the reason for Jagodzinski’s firing was the Bucs came to the conclusion he didn’t have the wherewithal to be a coordinator. He didn’t even call his own plays, his practice methods didn’t make a lot of sense and there was overwhelming doubt that he could develop this offense into anything close to a competitive unit.
Well, weird things can happen in the NFL, but sometimes you create your own problems and this situation raises a lot of concern about Morris and Dominik.
After all, couldn’t the Jagodzinski debacle been avoided with a little homework? Sure, Jagodzinski had been the head coach at Boston College. But he also had a reputation around the NFL of perhaps being a guy who was more style than substance, more name than proven commodity. Quarterbacks coach Greg Olson, who now takes over as offensive coordinator, didn’t even get an interview for the coordinator job when it first was open and he probably has a better reputation around the league than Jagodzinski.
Surely, the Bucs talked to some people around the league before making the Jagodzinski hire?
You would hope, but this isn’t the first time moves by Morris and Dominik have raised eyebrows around the league. In fact, they’re building quite a list of moves that can be questioned.
Start with what’s been described both as a last-minute jump or an exploratory look into the Matt Cassel sweepstakes. Either way, the Bucs didn't succeed. Or jump over to the decision to trade up in the draft to take quarterback Josh Freeman. The move was immediately booed by fans, who were hoping for a defensive player, at a draft party at the stadium.
As long as we’re talking quarterbacks, let’s talk about how the new regime has handled that position. It hasn’t quite been like the Gruden days when the Bucs seemed to sign three quarterbacks a week, and Morris and Dominik have made it clear from the beginning that they don’t want to play Freeman right away.
But everything else the Bucs have done at this position has come with no rhyme or reason. Early in their tenure, Morris and Dominik re-signed Luke McCown to a fairly large contract and told him he’d be given a chance to compete for the starting job.
Then, they turned around and signed Byron Leftwich. Although there was no clear-cut reason to think Leftwich outplayed McCown in the preseason, Morris handed him the starting job.
But there already were more red flags than usual flying at Raymond James Stadium even before the quarterback “battle’’ ended in a cease fire.
Morris and Dominik gutted the very core of everything good that ever has happened to this franchise in February when they unceremoniously cut Derrick Brooks. Sometimes you have to make difficult decisions and there is something to be said for getting younger.
You look for the flip side of that move and you wonder how the Bucs have replaced Brooks’ strong and positive influence in the locker room.
Yeah, there’s a brilliant idea with no potential for absolute disaster. Hitch your wagon to a tight end, who -- without question -- is enormously talented and -- with absolutely no question -- has the ability to drain the life out of a locker room faster than anyone this side of Terrell Owens.
Again, let’s remember Morris at least gets a little benefit of the doubt until he actually loses a few games. But let’s be realistic: The doubt is getting really deep around here.
No, that actually wasn’t Wyche you saw cruising down Dale Mabry Highway this afternoon. But keep an eye out. There might be some Bill Cowher, Mike Shanahan or Mike Holmgren sightings in Tampa if the circus atmosphere continues.