How did Raheem Morris’ rise from quality control coach – with stints as Tampa Bay’s assistant DBs coach, its secondary coach and its defensive coordinator for a brief period of time – to head coach happen so fast?
The only way it can be explained is because Morris is that good of a coach. Throwing in a little fate and good fortune wouldn’t be inappropriate, either.
Always a long-time favorite and protégé of former defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, Morris knows the X’s and O’s and has even impressed new defensive coordinator Jim Bates – a long-time veteran in the NFL – with his football wisdom and accumen.
It’s no coincidence that Tampa Bay’s secondary collapsed when Mike Tomlin left to become a defensive coordinator with the Minnesota Vikings and Morris left to become the defensive coordinator at Kansas State University in 2006.
It’s no coincidence that K-State has been to only one bowl game in the past five years – and that was with Morris running the Wildcats defense, which happen to lead the Big 12 in sacks that year with 40.
And it’s no coincidence that the Bucs secondary rebounded and finished as the league’s top-ranked unit against the pass when Morris returned to Tampa Bay to coach the defensive backs in 2007.
On Christmas day last year, former head coach Jon Gruden promoted Morris to be Kiffin’s heir apparent as Tampa Bay’s defensive coordinator for the 2009 season. But the Glazers had other plans for Morris, and made the 32-year old the franchise’s eighth head coach after Gruden was fired on January 16.
Pewter Report was there from the beginning to chronicle Morris’ rise within the organization, publishing the first feature on him in my End Zone column on November 29, 2004. This was the article that started it all for Morris’ media coverage, which began in earnest years later upon his decision to not replace Tomlin as Tampa Bay’s defensive backs coach and head off to K-State to become a defensive coordinator under head coach Ron Prince at age 29.
The title of the End Zone column back in 2004 was appropriately titled, “Morris Is A Coach On The Rise In Tampa Bay.” The genesis for the column came from my cover story on Tomlin in which Tomlin, Kiffin and several Buccaneers heaped praise on Morris, who was the assistant defensive backs at the time. The following is a reprint of the column from over four years ago.
MORRIS IS A COACH ON THE RISE IN TAMPA BAY
If you’ve read the cover story on Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive back coach Mike Tomlin in this issue of Pewter Report, chances are you were introduced to Tomlin’s assistant secondary coach, Raheem Morris. Pewter Report prides itself on being one step ahead of the media in forecasting personnel moves, and in some cases, coaching moves, too.
Here’s what we think is going to happen. Tomlin will get a defensive coordinator job during the offseason, and head coach Jon Gruden and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin will drop the word “assistant” on Morris’ title and call on the 28-year old to fill Tomlin’s shoes. Both moves deserve to happen to two quality – and qualified – individuals in 2005.
How qualified is Morris? He actually turned down a defensive backs coaching position at Michigan two years ago – when he was only 26 years old. Kiffin tells the story.
“Raheem is a special guy,” Kiffin said. “He came here two years ago as a quality control coach and he was outstanding. He actually went for an interview at the University of Michigan with Lloyd Carr – and he was just 26 years old – probably for the experience of it. They came down here to visit with our defensive staff and they just lost their secondary coach, so they invited him to come up for an interview. I think they were just prepping him just so they could learn about the defense, but he took the interview.
“He did so well they offered him the job. But he came back because he had kind of made a two-year commitment to us. We didn’t hold him back from going, but he liked it here. Of course, we were coming off a Super Bowl year so he stayed. He’s done so good in the two years that he’s been here that Jon promoted him to assistant secondary coach. Not that Mike Tomlin needed help, but Raheem works so hard and he was just deserving of it.”
Looking back, Morris doesn’t regret passing up the opportunity to coach at Michigan.
“It’s always intriguing to go have your own show and be able to run that deal and have your own group,” Morris said. “But Mike and Kiff do a great job of making me feel like I already have my own crew and my own responsibilities. They made it real easy for me to stay. I’m always a part of the loop. I wanted to stay. Plus, this is the league, man.”
Morris landed his gig with the Buccaneers thanks to the help of a former Buccaneers assistant coach – Herman Edwards.
“I was working as an intern with the Jets while I was at Hofstra,” Morris said. “I worked hard and at the end of my internship I called Coach Edwards and I told him I was interested in the job. He then called down to Coach Kiffin and the next thing I knew I was in a suit flying down to Tampa for an interview. Monte put me through the ‘grueling Monte Kiffin interview.’ It was awesome. He gets you on the board and just wants to talk football. If you can sit there and have a conversation that makes sense to him about football, you’ll have a great chance to get the job, as long as you are decent on the computer, too.
“Most people want computer geeks to input all the data, but these guys wanted a coach. They wanted a guy who could actually go out on the field and coach and move up like I have done and like Joe Barry has done. It’s more about football rather than how fast you can break down game film. It’s more about ‘do you know football and do you love football?’”
As a defensive quality control coach, Morris did a little coaching initially, but really cut his teeth on the computers at One Buccaneer Place breaking down film of opponents and self-scouting the Buccaneers, inputting all the game plan material and making the cards for the practice squad. Two years later as Tomlin’s assistant, Morris is doing less work on the computers and more coaching on the field and in the classroom.
“Raheem is a smart, high-energy guy who loves football,” Tomlin said. “We have a great rapport and a great working relationship. The biggest thing is that we can break the group up a little bit. When you are working with eight or nine guys, you tend to focus a little more on the guys who are going to play. That’s human nature. He’s been able to work with some young, development guys like Will Allen and Ronyell Whitaker and give them some individual coaching and attention that they need. When we get into the regular season, I’m more of a Ronde Barber, Brian Kelly, Dwight Smith and Jermaine Phillips guy. When Raheem is talking, it’s just like I am talking. He’s earned that respect and you see those guys getting better on a daily basis. That’s a credit to him.”
Whitaker says the similarities between Tomlin and Morris can be striking.
“It’s the same message and same terminology,” Whitaker said. “With Raheem it’s just like having Mike out there. When I first got here last year, Coach Kiffin introduced me to Raheem and said that this guy is going to be a future G.M. on somebody’s team before he retires. He’s so bright for being so young. Rah knows so much about the game and I’m glad to have a guy like him around. When it gets close to game time, Mike can get with [the starters] and Raheem gets with us and coaches us up.”
Morris calls the reserve defensive backs the “one step away guys” and enjoys developing them. He has earned their respect and they see him as an extension of Tomlin.
“Raheem has been the understudy for Mike and he’s learned a lot from him,” said safety John Howell. “Every now and then, Mike will hand it over to Raheem in our meeting room and he will take over and do his thing. I’ve gotten to know Raheem quite a bit and he’s a guy who will laugh and joke with you and kind of takes the edge off. But he’s the same way as Mike if you mess up. He’s going to get on you, but not yell or scream at you. He’ll do it in a constructive way. The two of them make a great team. But when Mike is ready to move on and Raheem is ready to take over at the helm we won’t miss a beat.”
The fact that Morris and Tomlin share the same agent in Brian Levy means that the scenario Howell described could happen as early as next year.
As history points out, Tomlin didn’t leave the Bucs in 2005 after interviewing with Miami to become its defensive coordinator and receiving some interest from Denver. He signed a one-year deal and worked one more year with Morris. Then Morris threw the Buccaneers – and Pewter Report’s prognostications – a curve ball when he elected to go to K-State in 2006 instead of assume Tomlin’s throne.
But within the column you can see just how passionate and excited members of the Buccaneers organization were about Morris and the potential he had back in 2004. It’s that potential that the Glazers tapped into back on January 16 in naming Morris the team’s head coach over four years later.