|New Bucs coach Raheem Morris, center, has surrounded himself with coordinators who have head-coaching experience.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
TAMPA, Fla. -- Jim Bates walked into a room full of people he had never met Wednesday morning, smiled a few times and started talking. Within a minute or two, there was a comfort level.
A day earlier, Jeff Jagodzinski did the exact same thing.
If nothing else at this point, it's pretty easy to see the new offensive and defensive coordinators of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are extremely poised, polished and very good at communicating. Yeah, they also have long histories of drawing X's and O's pretty well, but Raheem Morris' decision to hire these two guys to run his offense and defense was about more than drawing up plays.
When you're a 32-year-old, first-time head coach, who never truly has even been a coordinator in the NFL, you need help from those who have been there before. When you're trying to build credibility, one of the smartest things you can do is surround yourself with it.
That's precisely what Morris did when he hired Bates and Jagodzinski.
It's not exactly a new concept. Think Mike Tomlin (one of Morris' best friends) working with veteran defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau in Pittsburgh and winning the Super Bowl in their second year together. Think Atlanta's Mike Smith going out and getting offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and turning around a dismal franchise in their first season. Or even think back into Tampa Bay's history and remember when first-time head coach Tony Dungy tabbed Monte Kiffin as his defensive coordinator and the duo made the NFL's worst franchise into an annual playoff contender.
"I think Raheem is jumping all over this opportunity," Bates said. "He's hired an excellent coaching staff, and it's our job to help us win games. If we win games that's all to be decided. Raheem will do a great job in his role. Age is not a factor. Sometimes a younger guy can get closer to the team than some of us older guys."
|Cliff Welch/Icon SMI|
|Jon Gruden's inability to relate to players contributed to his downfall in Tampa.|
In large part, Morris, who was Tampa Bay's defensive backs coach last year, was promoted because ownership believes he can relate to players. An inability to do that turned out to be a fatal flaw for predecessor Jon Gruden, who has been bashed by multiple players since his firing.
There's an old adage in the NFL that if you fire a fat coach you go out and hire a skinny one. Morris may be Gruden's opposite in that he's capable of being a buddy to his players, some of whom are older than he is.
But the bigger question is whether Morris knows how to be a head coach. That answer will play out. But the smartest move Morris has made so far is surrounding himself with two guys who have been head coaches and coordinators and that's an excellent start.
"If I can share some things that can help Raheem, I will," Jagodzinski said. "That's what a staff is supposed to do. They wouldn't call it a staff if you could do it all yourself."
Morris has mentioned Tomlin, Gruden and Herm Edwards (coaches he's worked with in the past) as his role models. Those guys aren't with him now, but Bates and Jagodzinski give Morris two guys who have been in his shoes.
Start with Bates. He's 62 and has a grandfatherly presence. Sure, Bates can get as excited as anyone in the heat of a game, but he does it with the coolness of a guy who has been coaching for 37 years. Bates has been a head coach -- on an interim basis -- and players rallied for him to get the full-time job. He got that same kind of support from the players in Green Bay when he interviewed for the Packers' job in 2006, but the team elected to go with Mike McCarthy.
Bates has been a defensive coordinator for the Falcons, Dolphins, Packers and Broncos. There have been plenty of times when Bates' name came up as a possible head coach, but those days probably are over at a time when the NFL trend is to hire young head coaches.
"It was close," Bates said about his opportunities to be a head coach. "There's no bitterness. I'm glad to be where I'm at. I'm happy to be defensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Bucs. I am in the best situation Jim Bates could be in right now."
Jagodzinski's got a similar, although shorter, history. He's been a head coach, although not in the NFL, and a history as an NFL coordinator. Jagodzinski, 45, was Boston College's head coach the last two years, but was fired when, against the school's wishes, he interviewed for the head job with the New York Jets in January.
"I don't think it's a step back,'' Jagodzinski said.
Maybe not. There's little doubt Jagodzinski will have control over the offense. Morris' experience is on the defensive side. A little bit of success could help Jagodzinski, who has been a coordinator in Green Bay, become an NFL head coach.
But that's down the road. For now, a large part of the job for Jagodzinski and Bates is to make sure Morris succeeds as a head coach and their roles will go way beyond drawing up new playbooks and calling plays.
"Yes, X's and O's are important, but a lot of times it is, "Can you work with the guy? Do you feel comfortable with him?" Jagodzinski said. "That's one of the most important things I learned about being a head coach. You better surround yourself with the best possible people that you can. It wasn't a popularity contest, it was the best possible people."
Only time will tell if Morris succeeds. But it sure looks like he's surrounded himself with the best possible people. That's a great start.