NFL Nation: Outback Bowl
January, 1, 2012
By Pat Yasinskas | ESPN.com
AP Photo/David GoldmanA season-ending 10-game losing streak will almost surely cost Raheem Morris his job with the Bucs.ATLANTA -- Raheem Morris has his schedule all set for Monday.
“There will be a 10 o’clock meeting,’’ the coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers said. “There’ll be another 11 o’clock one. We’ll have a 12 o’clock press conference and I’ll see you there. I’ll go to the Outback Bowl in the afternoon. I’ll come back and do a radio show and be ready to deal and be ready for this offseason and be ready to attack it.’’
Sounds good, but other than the Outback Bowl, everything else on the itinerary could get disrupted. By 10 a.m. Monday, Morris might not even be the coach of the Buccaneers. His fate is in the hands of the Glazer family, which owns the Bucs. The Glazers have a reputation for moving slowly and deliberately, which means Morris still might be employed Tuesday or Wednesday. (UPDATE: Morris was canned Monday morning.)
But it’s hard to imagine him lasting much longer than that.
That’s what happens when you go out and basically lose like the Bucs did on Sunday — 45-24 to the Atlanta Falcons — 10 times in a row. When you start a season 4-2 and are in first place in the NFC South and then you go to London and never win (or really even come close) again, there are bound to be questions about your employment.
“If I was in the business of worrying about my future, I wouldn’t be coaching,’’ Morris said. “I’m going to go to work tomorrow, until they tell (me) to stop. This is not the time to talk about that type of stuff. That’s for mental midgets. For us, we’ve got to go out and play football and do what we’ve got to do.’’
The Glazers just might tell Morris to stop. It’s not what they want to do. The Glazers thought they were anointing the next great coach when they replaced Jon Gruden with Morris. The Glazers like Morris, who is a genuinely nice guy.
But what the Glazers want to do and what they need to do look like two different things.
How can they possibly bring Morris back?
In his third season, the third year of a youth movement, the Bucs took a major step back. The collapse was epic — and we’re talking about a franchise that was epically bad for most of its first three decades of existence. A season after going 10-6 with the league’s youngest roster, the Bucs finished 4-12, which was good for last place in the NFC South.
And it just kept getting worse. Over the past five games, the Bucs allowed an average of 40.6 points a game. They weren’t even in any of those games for long. That was especially true Sunday in Atlanta, where the Falcons jumped out to a 42-0 second-quarter lead and pulled quarterback Matt Ryan and running back Michael Turner to rest them for the playoffs.
“I admire the moxie, guys coming out there in the second half,’’ Morris said.
Yep, the Bucs held an offense led by backup quarterback Chris Redman to a field goal in the second half and they did score 17 (meaningless) points in the third and fourth quarters. If New Orleans coach Sean Payton, who follows his own guide on running up the score, was coaching the Falcons on Sunday, Atlanta might have scored 100.
“To watch Elbert Mack go out there and give that kind of effort, that to me was outstanding,’’ Morris said.
Elbert Mack? Where did that come from? He’s a backup cornerback who was forced to play against Roddy White and Julio Jones after veteran starter Ronde Barber went out with an injury. But what about the other 52 guys? And what about the past 10 games?
If Morris sounds like a man who is desperately grabbing for anything positive, that’s only because that’s exactly what he is and his options are slim.
There was nothing positive at all about this season. The Bucs ended up allowing a franchise-record 494 points; the last time Tampa Bay lost 10 consecutive games in a season was 1977. That was the second year of an expansion franchise.
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesAtlanta receiver Julio Jones has shown flashes of star potential this offseason.
Virtually every player that was on the roster in 2010 regressed in 2011, with the possible exception of Mack.
Quarterback Josh Freeman threw three interceptions Sunday to finish the season with 22; he threw only six last season. Freeman’s the biggest example, but there are plenty of others. Running back LeGarrette Blount, receiver Mike Williams and linebacker Quincy Black were among the other notable underachievers.
When you’ve got a fan base that’s only sold out your stadium twice in the past two years, how can you not do something dramatic? You really have no choice but to fire Morris if you want to show your fans you care at all about the product.
The Glazers have been accused of many things, particularly of being frugal. They’ve had one of the league’s lowest payrolls in recent years, so there may be some truth to that. But the Glazers really do care about winning.
Aside from the fictional owner of the Cleveland Indians in the movie “Major League’’ and former Bucs owner Hugh Culverhouse, has there ever been an owner in any pro sport that didn’t want to win? The Glazers also don’t like to be embarrassed.
There’s no denying this season was an embarrassment, and much of that falls on Morris. His team often looked ill-prepared and he questioned his team’s effort on three occasions. If a team’s not prepared and isn’t giving strong effort, that’s not a good reflection on the coach.
Besides, there’s also the fact that 2012 is the final season of Morris’ contract. There’s no way the Bucs could extend him without losing their remaining fans. If they let Morris go into a lame-duck season, they run the risk of the team getting even more out of control.
Morris was still talking about next season after Sunday’s game.
“We’re talking about rededicating yourself, getting back to the lab and coming out ready to work,’’ Morris said. “The only thing you’ve got now is to plan the offseason.’’
Umm, maybe not. Let’s wait a day or two and see who the Glazers say will be planning this offseason.