Buccaneers Offseason Priority No. 1

Now that head coach Raheem Morris will be back in 2010, he has several decisions to make. In this exclusive series on the Bucs' critical offseason priorities, Matthew Postins examines whether Morris should make changes at key coordinator positions and offers some candidates that Morris should consider as he puts together his 2010 staff. It's the first decision he must get right this offseason.

Raheem Morris will be back in 2010. His first order of business? Determine the direction of his offense and defense.

Yes, everyone thought he had done so last year when he hired Jeff Jagodzinski (offense) and Jim Bates (defense) as his coordinators. Both had solid reputations and NFL experience that Morris lacked. Morris canned both of them by Week 10.

Right now Greg Olsen is the offensive coordinator, thrust into that role after Jags' firing. Morris is his own defensive coordinator.

What will Morris do? Only he knows for sure, but what he does will define the duration of his coaching stay.

What should he do? My suggestions are below. Whatever Morris does, he must get it right, or this Bucs team will not progress and he will lose his job in 2010.

Offense

Olsen had 10 days to prepare to be the Bucs' offensive coordinator, and it showed in the team's woeful start. The unit, at times, looked confused and unprepared.

As the season went on, the Bucs did carve out an identity based on running the football as effectively as possible to insulate their rookie quarterback, Josh Freeman. Sometimes that worked, sometimes it didn't.

By the end of the season, the Bucs were ranked 28th in total offense, 24th in passing yards, 23rd in rushing yards (yes, that does seem unusual), and 30th in points scored per game (only Oakland and the St. Louis Rams were worse). That's not exactly an indictment for a second year with Olsen, is it?

Teams figured the Bucs out quickly. They put seven or eight players in the box, and with a rookie quarterback calling the shots and a sub-par receiving corps catching the football, teams didn't need to double-team receivers, even No. 1 receiver Antonio Bryant. More often than not, that tactic worked. It's hard to call plays when your bread-and-butter is melting before your eyes.

Olsen took a conservative approach, for the most part. One thing that I did like is that it seemed he was more willing to throw the ball downfield than his predecessor, Jon Gruden. But it just didn't work out often enough.

Personnel and the sudden coaching change necessitated a stripped-down approach on offense. That makes answering the question about Olsen's future as offensive coordinator difficult to answer. If he remains, the Bucs have to upgrade the talent around Freeman (something they must do anyway) and Olsen has to show his boss that he can find ways to open up that passing game with Freeman while not sacrificing the team's best asset at the moment, its running game. This cannot become a pass-first team. Olson was a part of that type of offense in St. Louis, and that won't work in Tampa Bay.

To be honest, I'm not sold on Olsen as offensive coordinator, and I don't think Morris is, either. He might be better advised to go outside the organization to find the guy that can construct the offense around Freeman. It would help if that coordinator has experience tutoring QBs.

What if Morris makes a change? Well, there are candidates to consider, not the least of which is old Tampa Bay whipping boy Clyde Christensen, who is now the offensive coordinator in Indianapolis. Yes, he has Peyton Manning, but the offense was a Top 10 unit again in 2009, and Christensen made great use of RB Joseph Addai, who enjoyed a career season with more than 10 touchdowns. But, Christensen may want to throw the ball more than Morris is willing to allow. And you could make the argument that Christensen was nothing more than a puppet for offensive advisor Tom Moore, who retired (so he could protect his NFL coaching pension) and then came back before the season began as an "advisor."

It will be difficult to lure a current offensive coordinator for this position, so Morris should focus on quarterback coaches that have either never been coordinators or have been coordinators before, but are not currently. Some possible candidates:

Joe Lombardi, New Orleans: When in doubt, steal from a division rival. He's had three years with the Saints, which means three years of working with Drew Brees and head coach Sean Payton. Plus, he's Vince Lombardi's grandson. Yes, THAT Vince Lombardi.

Tom Clements, Green Bay: Hired by Mike McCarthy in 2006, all this guy has done is supervised the progression of Aaron Rodgers from rookie to elite QB. He spent two years as Buffalo's OC, and he's worked with plenty of QBs in Pittsburgh and New Orleans, including Jake Delhomme early in his career. Stealing Clements from the Packers would be a major coup.

John Ramsdell, San Diego: This is my favorite. With his credentials, it's incredible that this isn't already an offensive coordinator. He's supervised Phillip Rivers' development the past four years. Before that, all he did was tutor a couple of Rams QBs you may have heard of – Kurt Warner and Marc Bulger. He's never been a coordinator in the NFL, which makes hiring him away an easier sell. It's just as warm in Tampa in December as it is in San Diego.

Defense

This question is much easier for me to answer. Morris should hire a new defensive coordinator.

Yes, I saw the same things you did once Morris took over the defense in November. Every major defensive category went down, from yards allowed to points allowed, once Morris switched the Bucs back to their Cover 2 scheme. Frankly, it was a disaster to try Bates' more aggressive scheme with personnel not suited to it. Morris learned that the hard way.

But there is no reason for Morris to do double duty next season (even though he told players like Tanard Jackson during the season that he was getting "bored" as head coach. That's a whole other problem, frankly). He would be best served hiring a defensive coordinator that is well-versed in the Cover 2, which means taking a defensive assistant from a team that already runs that system.

Fortunately, plenty of teams run the Cover 2, starting in Indianapolis, where our Colts correspondent Eric Hartz weighed in on a Colts coach that could be ready to leap into a coordinator's role.

"Indy DB coach Alan Williams is getting lots of rumors as being a possible DC candidate for the Bears," Hartz said. "He coached as a defensive assistant in (Tony) Dungy's last year in Tampa and is obviously familiar with the Tampa-2. He has worked a lot of magic with a beat-up Colts secondary the last few years."

Williams isn't the only one Morris could lean on:

Perry Fewell, unemployed: He's Chicago's top choice to become their new defensive coordinator, if you believe what you read. Fewell has plenty of Cover 2 experience and would be a great hire for someone like Morris.

Karl Dunbar, DL coach, Minnesota: Few coaches get as much out of their defensive line than Dunbar, who helmed one of the best this season. He has Cover 2 experience and appears poised to take the next step in his career. He also worked for Lovie Smith in Chicago.

There are plenty of other possibilities. Here's another one to consider – Rod Marinelli. The regime that did him no favors in Tampa Bay is gone now, and Marinelli may appreciate working for, and to a degree tutoring, the young Morris. Marinelli is up for the DC job in Chicago now.

And if Morris needs more proof that wearing two hats isn't the way to go, one of his role models, Smith, is giving up his DC hat for 2010.

It's better than the alternative, especially when you're on as short a leash as Morris will be in 2010.


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