Two years ago, two NFC teams hired new head coaches with outstanding defensive backgrounds in order to turn their teams around. Each franchise had fallen on hard times, nearing the end of multi-year campaigns led by West Coast Offense disciples, and were looking for new blood. As promised the year before, the Seattle Seahawks promoted secondary coach Jim Mora to the head coach position to replace Mike Holmgren, while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tabbed Raheem Morris, their own former defensive backs coach, as the man to replace Jon Gruden.
Almost two full seasons later, the results for the coaching candidates could not possibly be more different. Mora was canned after one 5-11 season in which his enthusiasm failed to hide his rapidly eroding credibility, and now, Pete Carroll is trying to pick up the slack in a long-term (though surprisingly competitive) rebuild.
Meanwhile, after a 3-13 first season and with the youngest roster in the league, Morris is running a Bucs team that stands at 8-6 and would be the belles of the NFC West, were they so fortunate to live amongst such low-hanging fruit. Instead, they have to win out for any hope of a playoff run, because theyre looking up two teams in their own NFC South division: The Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints, and the 12-2 Atlanta Falcons, the conferences best team. Still, the turnaround seems like a building block to even better things.
Its about a mentality towards reality, Morris said on Wednesday. When we started this thing, we talked about Race to 10 and people thought we were crazy, but it was my mentality, my vision, and what I set out for our team to do. These guys have done nothing but back me up with a pro player type of attitude at work, and weve been able to have a little success. Hopefully, we can continue that. Weve got two more games to reach our goal and what we set out to do. Dont know that its going to end with the results that we want, but certainly, its a great chance to be in December playing in meaningful games. Its a great job for both of these teams to be right in the playoff hunt, and were just proud to be in that position.
On October 24, he famously claimed that his Bucs were the best team in the NFC. Why do I say that? Because if we dont believe it, certainly nobody else will, the coach told NFL Films.
One area in which the Bucs got ahead of the curve was the drafting and development of a young quarterback in Josh Freeman. While the Seahawks are still struggling to determine what their future may be at the position, Freeman is firmly entrenched as a productive leader, and that was set in motion when Freeman became the new administrations first draft pick in 2009. Freeman is 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds. Hes mobile, but not strictly a runner; the Kansas State alum has one of the lowest interception rates in the league (six picks to 18 touchdowns in 422 passing attempts), and there are already comparisons to an embryonic Ben Roethlisberger, based on Freemans arm, toughness, and escapability (and thankfully, nothing else).
Hes one of the guys thats become clutch, Morris said of his franchise quarterback. Hes wise beyond his years. Hes doing all the right things in the right way, and hes going out there and learning every single week. People are saying its his second year, but really, this is his first year as a full-time starter. He has the ability to go out there and win football games for us. Hes got, I think, five fourth-quarter comebacks now.
Morris also talked about how Freeman is learning the not-so-subtle quarterback art of holding teammates and playmakers accountable (and being most accountable himself as a result). He wants those guys to come work on routes, he wants those guys to come and work on ball-handling and all the things he wants the offensive line to come work on protection. Youve got to give a lot of credit to our management team and (general manager) Mark Dominik and what theyve been able to do with bringing people in whether its via the draft, or whether its via trade, or whether its what we call the second draft where we go and steal guys off of (other) practice squads, and put people around him that make plays. All the things we do have helped in benefitting ‘Number 5’, and thats really what our programs based on right now.
The Seahawks new personnel movement strategy has hit on some big winners, but its also had a ready, fire, aim feel to it at times by necessity anytime youre on the path to set the single-season record for transactions, things will get a bit hectic at times. The new Buccaneers, now in their second season on the same path with the same basic building crew, are able to take a more balanced approach in which the risk-reward ratio is a bit more hospitable.
The Bucs have also taken shots on players with possible character concerns in running back LeGarrette Blount, receiver Mike Williams (no, not the Seattle version; this is the rookie from Syracuse), and tight end Kellen Winslow. Like the Seahawks with LenDale White, they still knew when to cut ties, as they did with noted malcontent tight end (and former Seahawk) Jerramy Stevens.
Carroll doesnt know Morris, but hes very familiar with the defense being run in Tampa Bay, derived from the efforts of longtime Carroll comrade and former Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin as it was. They are much in the (Kiffin) style, Carroll said of the Bucs, and hes really been raised in that style of play that Kiff brought about years ago, There have been a lot of successful guys that have gone through that system, and Raheems one of those guys. Taking that system to some new levels. They do a lot of pressure out of it, maybe more so than they did before, but you can really see the lineage there. Its really clear.
The lineage for the 2010 Seahawks is still undefined. Carroll and general manager John Schneider are still trying to establish parameters in a situation that was presented to them as a blank canvas, because the previous administration was so dysfunctional. The good news for the new Seattle crew is that when they look across the field at Raymond James Stadium this Sunday, they could very well be looking at their near future.