On Monday, January 2, Buccaneers co-chairman Joel Glazer took to the podium after firing head coach Raheem Morris, who went 17-31 in his three seasons as head coach in Tampa Bay from 2009-11, to explain the team’s decision to move in a different direction.
“We are going to keep an open mind. We are not going to pigeonholed in exactly what we are looking for here,” Glazer said when asked about what criteria ownership and general manager Mark Dominik were looking for in a new head coach. “We are going to interview a lot of different candidates and talk to a lot of different people. This is going to be an exhaustive search, but at the end of the day this is going to be the leader of our football team. The leader has to stand for something and every different person stands for different things and that’s when we have our final decision that will lead to what we were looking for. “It is easy to say you want a leader with discipline and all these different things, but I am not going to characterize it one way or another. We want a person who we feel will represent this team well, represent the community well and get our players progressing like we would like to see them progress.”
While Glazer did not reveal what characteristics the team is looking for during the interview process, PewterReport.com will as the search for the ninth head coach in Tampa Bay history begins.
FIND SOMEONE WITH EXPERIENCE
After three years of on-the-job training with Morris, who was only 31 years old when he became the head coach, it’s time for the Buccaneers to find a coach with more experience. Although someone with head coaching experience would be preferred, there have been plenty of successful coordinators that have made the transition to becoming great head coaches.
Super Bowl winners Sean Payton and Mike McCarthy were once coordinators before becoming head coaches for the first time, and other Super Bowl winners like former Bucs head coaches Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden were former coordinators who won Super Bowls with their second teams as head coaches.
With Tampa Bay’s roster being the youngest in the NFL for the second straight year, the Bucs could use a head coach that has experience leading men through training camp, through the rigors of the regular season and even into the postseason. With the Bucs lacking quality veteran leadership at several key units, having a veteran that has been a head coach before or a long-time coordinator would be preferred over the next young, hot coordinator.
Candidates that the Buccaneers are reportedly interested in, such as Jeff Fisher, Mike Sherman, Jerry Gray and Mike Mularkey all fit this criteria, which is a good sign.
FIND A DISCIPLINARIAN
The worst kept secret at One Buccaneer Place was that the 35-year old Morris was more of a brother to his players than a head coach in the way he related to them. Morris was liked more than he was respected and even feared because of his friendly relationship with the players, especially the defensive backs like Ronde Barber, Tanard Jackson and Aqib Talib.
With the Buccaneers fielding such a young team, one that lacks discipline and seriousness, the next head coach should be one that is a disciplinarian, and demands professionalism from his players – regardless of their age. There is nothing more important to the 2012 Buccaneers than discipline, evidenced by the fact that Tampa Bay committed an egregious amount of penalties in 2011 – nearly an average of 10 per game.
Sherman and Fisher are proven disciplinarians that have a track record of suspending players when necessary and getting rid of players when warranted.
FIND SOMEONE TO CHALLENGE THE FRONT OFFICE
Egos clashed between Gruden and former general manager Rich McKay from2002-03 during the Buccaneers’ Super Bowl run and the aftermath, but there is no arguing the fact that the two signed the greatest collection of offensive talent that was necessary to provide the necessary balance to beat Philadelphia and win Super Bowl XXXVII. Players like wide receivers Keenan McCardell and Joe Jurevicius, tight ends Ken Dilger and Rickey Dudley, offensive linemen Roman Oben and Kerry Jenkins and running back Michael Pittman were all instrumental in Tampa Bay becoming world champions.
The relationship between former general manager Bruce Allen and Gruden was probably a bit too cozy as Gruden, who is not the best evaluator of talent, often got exactly what he wanted. McKay proved to be a better balance to Gruden than Allen did in terms of personnel acquisitions.
Dominik and director of player personnel Dennis Hickey are mostly responsible for the Bucs’ current roster as Morris didn’t have enough clout to make roster demands. Sometimes Dominik becomes too attached to his projects, such as running back Kregg Lumpkin and safety Sean Jones, when a player like Lumpkin is not an NFL-caliber and a player like Jones is not a starting-caliber player.
The Bucs need a working relationship between Dominik and the next head coach. It shouldn’t be acrimonious, but it shouldn’t be cozy, either. Proven NFL head coaches like Fisher and Sherman would probably strike the best balance.
FIND A DEFENSIVE-MINDED HEAD COACH
While Martin Fennelly of the Tampa Tribune has been lobbying the Buccaneers to hire an offensive-minded head coach, Pewter Report suggests the exact opposite take place – even though the recently fired Morris was a defensive-minded coach. Here’s the problem with hiring an offensive-minded head coach that will want to call plays. If it doesn’t work for any reason – the play-calling is not imaginative or effective enough, the chemistry with quarterback Josh Freeman isn’t right, or Freeman doesn’t show enough progress – it’s much easier and less painful to switch coordinators than it is to fire another head coach.
Dungy couldn’t get his offensive coordinators right – he went through three of them with Mike Shula, Les Steckel and Clyde Christensen – but the Bucs were better off sticking with Dungy from 1996-2001 as Tampa Bay built a Super Bowl-caliber defense under his watch. The Bucs had to put up with some mediocre play-calling at times from Jon Gruden because he was the head coach and the play-caller, and thankfully the defense was still stout for most of the Gruden era to help keep opposing point totals low.
Fennelly makes the case that offense rules the day in the modern NFL, but remember the supposedly invincible New England Patriots were 18-0 heading into the Super Bowl in 2007 before the New York Giants sacked the heck out of Tom Brady and stifled one of the most prolific offenses when it mattered the most.
The Buccaneers don’t have the experience or the firepower on offense to win shootouts with dynamic, high-flying offenses like Atlanta, New Orleans or Carolina right now. The recipe to beat those teams is to play stellar defense as the Bucs did earlier this season in triumphs over the Falcons and Saints.
Freeman had some good games for Tampa Bay in 2011, such as his 27-of-37 (73 percent) outing for 281 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions, but the Bucs still came up short because of shoddy tackling, poor technique and inexperience on defense. Tampa Bay’s defense ranked 30th overall by giving up 394.4 yards per game and couldn’t stop the run, allowing 156.1 yards per game, which ranked dead last in the NFL. Tampa Bay was also last in points allowed, surrendering 30.9 points per game.
Until Freeman takes a big step and joins the ranks of Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers, whose play at the quarterback position can make up for the lack of a superior defense, the Bucs defense needs to improve. Freeman needs to be fixed, but Tampa Bay's defense needs to be fixed more.
Finding a head coach that has some experience running a 4-3 defense would be preferred given all of the high draft picks and millions of dollars the Bucs have invested in the likes of defensive linemen like Gerald McCoy, Brian Price, Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers. The defensive-minded Fisher seems to be the best choice out of the publicized candidates the Bucs are interviewing to meet this criteria.
FIND A GOOD, HONEST COMMUNICATOR
What made Dungy should an effective coach and allowed the Buccaneers to turn around their fortunes? He was honest with his players and treated them like men. Sam Wyche was inconsistent and wasn’t always a truth-teller. Just ask any player who played for both Wyche and Dungy.
Morris was a good communicator and was pretty forthright and honest about his players, even calling some of them out in team meetings to help create accountability. With this as the standard, the Bucs players wouldn't appreciate a double-talker, as Gruden was at times, or a coach who was inconsistent with his message, as Wyche often was.
Sherman and Fisher are believed to be good communicators with players on their past teams, and would seem to have this characteristic.
If the Buccaneers can meet this list of criteria with the likes of Sherman, Fisher or someone else, then Tampa Bay should be able to find a more successful replacement for Morris.