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Buccaneers hire Morris as new head coach

Raheem Morris, 32, is expected to be named the new head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Saturday, Jan. 17, replacing Jon Gruden, who was fired on Friday.
Raheem Morris, 32, is expected to be named the new head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Saturday, Jan. 17, replacing Jon Gruden, who was fired on Friday.

It didn't take long for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to find a new head coach.

Raheem Morris, 32, who spent the past two seasons as the team's secondary coach and was recently promoted to defensive coordinator, is expected to be introduced as the team's replacement for Jon Gruden today, following Friday afternoon's surprise dismissal of Jon Gruden.

Morris, who was the defensive coordinator at Kansas State in 2006, almost won the Denver Broncos' head coaching job two weeks ago, interviewing for hours with team owner Pat Bowlen, who was looking for a replacement for another Super Bowl-winning coach, Mike Shanahan. The Broncos instead went with another 32-year-old coordinator, Josh McDaniels, who ran the offense for the New England Patriots.

The move to Morris came only hours after Gruden, who led the team to its only Super Bowl title, had been fired after seven seasons with the team.

Gruden was dismissed along with general manager Bruce Allen following a lengthy meeting Friday afternoon with the Glazer family, which owns the Buccaneers. Gruden was 60-57 during his tenure, including the playoffs, making him the winningest coach in franchise history, but only 22-26 over the past three seasons.

"These decisions are never easy," Buccaneers co-chairman Joel Glazer told reporters late Friday afternoon. "This is the toughest decision you can make for an NFL franchise. ... Jon and Bruce are consummate professionals. They've poured their heart and soul into this franchise. It's really been an honor to work with them. They gave their all."

ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported that Gruden was "blindsided" by the move, according to a source close to the coach. Gruden had three years remaining on a contract extension he received after winning the NFC South in 2007.

ESPN also reported that the dismissals were costly for the Buccaneers — approximately $25 million in contract commitments for the two men. Gruden had signed a three-year, $15.3 million extension and was under contract through 2012. Allen was making more than $2 million a year, according to sources.

Meanwhile, NFL.com's Adam Schefter — who first broke the story online — reported that the Glazers' decision came after interviewing several players over the past couple of weeks regarding their opinion of Gruden.

"Suffice to say, the message delivered to the Glazers about Gruden wasn't favorable," Schefter reported. "One of the worst-kept secrets in the league was the way Buccaneers players felt about Gruden. There wasn't a real affinity there."

Morris has made a meteoric rise from Hofstra's defensive backs coach in 2000-2001 to head coach of the Bucs in 2009. Considered a rising star in the coaching ranks and a protege of Steelers coach Mike Tomlin — whose team is playing for the AFC Championship on Sunday — Morris was named defensive coordinator on Dec. 25, taking over for Monte Kiffin, who left to become defensive coordinator on his son Lane's staff at the University of Tennessee.

Tomlin was the Bucs' defensive backs coach from 2001-05 and the Minnesota Vikings' defensive coordinator in 2006 before interviewing with the Steelers. Tomlin was 34 when hired by the Steelers.

"Raheem is a very enthusiastic person, a very likeable person and will be good with the press," Kiffin told the St. Petersburg times shortly after endorsing Morris for his post. "But that's not why he got the job. There are coaches like that, but they can't really coordinate. But Raheem, he's ready. He deserves it. He's ready, and he can do it."

Morris first joined the Bucs in 2002 as a quality control assistant. After his one season at Kansas State, he returned as defensive backs coach in 2007, taking over a unit that had slipped to 19th in the league and moving it back into the top five.

Mark Dominik, who joined the Bucs in 1995 as a pro personnel assistant, will be introduced today as the team's new general manager, according to numerous reports. He was a candidate for the Chiefs general manager job that went to Scott Pioli.

The Glazer family paid dearly for Gruden, firing Tony Dungy and sending four high draft picks — two No. 1s and two No. 2s — and $8 million in cash to the Oakland Raiders. The move immediately paid off, as Gruden led the Bucs to the Super Bowl title and a 15-4 record in his first season. He set two NFL records in the process, as the youngest head coach (39) to win a Super Bowl and the first to lead a new team to the Super Bowl in his first season.

The Bucs, however, haven't won a playoff game since, making quick exits after winning division titles in 2005 and 2007.

Since winning the Super Bowl, the Bucs were 9-17 in December, 3-11 over the past three years, but none of those collapses was as epic as this season. The team started the season 9-3, then lost on the road at Carolina and Atlanta and fell at home — where they were previously 6-0 — to San Diego and Oakland. Winning any one of those games would have put the team back in the playoffs.

"Any time a season ends, especially the way our season ended, it's a very, very emotional time," Glazer said. "And one thing we always like to do is not act on emotion, let things simmer down, think through things carefully and not make any quick, rash decisions.

"After taking a lot of time to look at our franchise, look where it's been, look where it is, look where we want to go, we just felt this was the time for a change."

The regular-season finale could have sealed Gruden's fate. Hosting the Raiders and needing a victory and a Philadelphia win over the Dallas Cowboys to advance to the postseason, the Bucs blew a 24-14 lead in the fourth quarter, giving up 17 points in the final 10 minutes of a 31-24 loss.

"I'm doing the very best I can," Gruden said when asked about his job security following the game. "I'm working as hard as I can, and I'll continue to do that as long as I'm in this position."

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that Gruden stayed in the position all the way until Friday.

His firing continues a trend — since the 2008 season kicked off, 10 teams have either changed coaches or are in the process of looking for new ones. The 49ers (Mike Nolan), Raiders (Lane Kiffin) and Rams (Scott Linehan) fired coaches during the season. The Lions (Rod Marinelli), Broncos (Mike Shanahan), Browns (Romeo Crennell) and Jets (Eric Mangini) dismissed their coaches almost immediately following the end of the regular season.

Additionally, Dungy retired from the Colts, as did Mike Holmgren from the Seahawks.

The hiring of Morris also follows a trend, as NFL owners are increasingly turning to GM-coaching combos with responsibilities weighted more toward the front office and less experience on the sidelines. It's easy to understand why that's such an attractive option for owners, considering what's been happening in the league.

Consider the Miami Dolphins, who went from 1-15 to 11-5 — the biggest one-year turnaround in league history — and won the AFC East this season by hiring Bill Parcells as general manager and a rookie head coach, former Cowboys assistant Tony Sparano. Or the Falcons, who were led by rookie Mike Smith, a former Jaguars coordinator, who was this year's coach of the year for leading Atlanta to an 11-5 record and into the playoffs.

Then there are rookie head coaches John Harbaugh of the Ravens and Ken Whisenhunt of the Cardinals, who both have their teams playing in conference championship games this weekend. The other coaches are Mike Tomlin of the Steelers and Andy Reid of the Eagles; Tomlin was a largely unknown assistant when he took over for Bill Cowher in Pittsburgh.

The days of a head coach dominating an organization and holding most of the power seem to be over, as made clear by the number of former Super Bowl-winning coaches now in the unemployment line: Gruden, Shanahan, Holmgren, Dungy, Cowher and Brian Billick among them. They're among nine Super Bowl-winning head coaches (Parcells, Joe Gibbs and Dick Vermeil are the others) who have either retired or been fired since 2005.

Although Shanahan — the first coach ever to be fired from an organization he led to two Super Bowls — has talked to the Jets about their vacancy, none of those names appears to be headed for a new job this offseason, despite the high volume of turnover, now up to a third of the league's top spots. The Bucs' might not be the last team to make a change, either: new GM Pioli has yet to make a decision on whether to retain Herm Edwards as the Chiefs' head coach for the final year of his contract.

To appreciate how the league is trending toward younger coaches, consider this glaring statistic: Only two active NFL head coaches, Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin, have won a Super Bowl.

Prior to joining the Buccaneers, Gruden guided the Raiders to division titles in each of his final two seasons. He steered the Raiders to a 40-28 mark in four seasons (1998-2001), with postseason appearances in 2000 and 2001.

Under Gruden, the Raiders advanced to the AFC title game in 2000 and in 2001 lost a divisional playoff game to eventual Super Bowl champion New England in one of those most controversial calls in league history, the infamous "tuck rule" that negated an apparent Tom Brady fumble and allowed the Patriots to advance on a last-second field goal.

Prior to his four seasons in Oakland, Gruden spent 1995-97 as offensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles and three years (1992-94) as wide receivers coach for Green Bay Packers. He worked as offensive assistant for the San Francisco 49ers in 1990.

Gruden was a quarterback in college at Dayton from 1982-84 and coached at Tennessee (1986-87), Southeast Missouri State (1988), Pacific (1989), and Pittsburgh (1991).

Born August 17, 1963 in Sandusky, Ohio, Gruden and his wife Cindy, have three sons, Jon II, Michael, and Jayson.

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