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Posted: Wednesday September 2, 2009 9:30AM; Updated: Wednesday September 2, 2009 9:30AM
SI's 2009 NFL Scouting Reports
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Projected Finish: 4th in NFC South
 
Barber notes a maturity and confidence in his young coach that belies his age.
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This article appears in the September 7, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated.

A new coach schooled in Tampa's defensive tradition will try to restore some of that swashbuckling swagger.

The story of Raheem Morris's quick rise from rookie assistant to NFL head coach begins on a plaque hanging in the lobby of One Buccaneer Place, the Bucs' headquarters next to Raymond James Stadium. Engraved on the plaque are the names of the men who coached Tampa Bay to the Super Bowl title following the 2002 season. The 13th name from the top is RAHEEM MORRIS, then the defensive quality control coach.

"I don't want to use the word, but he was a peon when he first got here, a hustler for money," says longtime Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber, stifling a laugh. "He's a proverbial from-the-bottom-floor-to-the-top guy. It's nice to see him get where he wants to be, even if it's probably a little bit sooner than he anticipated." Now Morris, who in January became the league's youngest head coach, at 32, needs to get quick results from a youthful squad coming off a 9-7 season that ended with a four-game losing streak marked by the surprising meltdown of a proud defense.

After the season Tampa Bay cut ties with such fixtures as coach Jon Gruden, linebacker Derrick Brooks and running back Warrick Dunn. Quarterback Jeff Garcia's free-agent departure left that position either highly competitive or highly unsettled, depending on your perspective. It will be Morris's job to fit the new pieces into the lineup and get the Bucs on a new track, and there have been indications of how he will go about it. Morris opened training camp by keeping the players in pads, and in meetings he shows them film of games from past seasons when Tampa Bay played a tough, physical style. With that, he revealed some of his coaching influences: Gruden, who kept a large library of motivating videos, and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who as the Bucs' defensive backs coach and Morris's boss from 2002 through '05, harped on the need for a team to impose its will on an opponent.

"The only way to be physical is to practice being physical," says Barber. "Especially with so many young guys, you have to establish your dominance and the precedent you're going to hold this team to."

Morris remembers getting blunt -- but helpful -- criticism from Tampa assistant head coach Rod Marinelli before Morris left the Bucs after the '05 season to become defensive coordinator at Kansas State. "Rod sat me down, gave me hard, critical comments, and also told me the things I did best," Morris says. "Then he told me, 'You're a little arrogant.' And I was. I'd won a Super Bowl at 26. We talked about core development, about presenting your best self and about humbleness."

Morris returned to the Bucs as DBs coach in 2007 and '08, then was promoted to coordinator last Christmas, replacing the long-tenured Monte Kiffin. He was bumped up again after Gruden was fired three weeks later.

Barber says the coach who left Tampa Bay for Kansas State was not the same as the man who returned to the Bucs. "You could see him grow into his own," Barber says of Morris. "All good head coaches have an ability to communicate their message clearly. It's partly his personality. He has that ability, like [Tomlin], to relate to the athlete nowadays. He can do it civilized or he can go thug."

Says safety Sabby Piscitelli, "Every player is different, and he had the ability to get his point across to every person. His swagger alone, his confidence, rubs off on a lot of people. The energy he gives off makes you want to play harder for him."

For an organization in transition -- new general manager, new coach, new offensive coordinator, new defensive coordinator -- playing hard and being physical are good starting points. Now, if Morris can replicate the quick success of Gruden and Tomlin, each of whom won a Super Bowl ring in his 30s, the lobby at One Buc Place will need a new plaque, one with Morris's name at the top.

-- Damon Hack

 

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