The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' decision to relieve Head Coach Raheem Morris of his duties on Monday was the culminating effect of many factors. The eventual selection of his successor as the ninth head coach in franchise history will be the same thing.
"In these things, it's not just one thing, but I'll point to progress of the team and where we're at," said Buccaneers Co-Chairman Joel Glazer on Monday afternoon, discussing the difficult decision to make a change of this magnitude. "After a season like this, you obviously have to take a step back and look at everything, and you can't be stubborn and not make changes and reflect on what led us to this. That's what we'll do. We're going to take some time. We're open to all changes or anything and the goal is to put a winner on the field."
In Morris' third season at the helm, the Buccaneers finished 4-12 after a promising 4-2 start. The team had hoped to advance from last year's promising 10-6 campaign but instead missed the playoffs for a fourth straight season and lost each of its last five games by 16 or more points. Both Glazer and General Manager Mark Dominik praised Morris for his passion and hard work, right up through the final week of the 2011 season, but felt that a move at the top and an organization-wide evaluation was necessary to get the team back on track. The Buccaneers also dismissed the remainder of the 2011 coaching staff on Monday.
"I think it's a conglomerate of a lot of different problems," said Dominik. "That's usually what happens when you have those kinds of losing streaks. When you lose 10 in a row, you have more than just one issue that you can put your finger on. We have a lot of things we have to work on."
Obviously, one of those things is the hiring of a new on-field leader, a process Glazer said would begin "immediately." Team ownership had not yet contacted any potential coaching candidates before meeting with Morris on Monday morning, but they will now begin that search in a very thorough and detailed manner.
"We want to find the right person for this job and if that takes a week, or three weeks, or whatever it is, that's what it'll be," said Glazer. "We want to find the right person.
"We're going to keep an open mind. We're not going to pigeon-hole exactly what we're looking for here. We're going to interview a lot of different candidates. 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 when we have our final decision, I think that'll lead to what we are looking for."
The Buccaneers promoted both Dominik and Morris to their posts in January of 2009, and the two began a team-building process that emphasized youth and establishing a new long-term core of players that would lead to sustained success. It was a model based on the same development that took place in the mid-'90s, shortly after Malcolm Glazer purchased the franchise. Glazer stressed that the Buccaneers still believe that the draft is the primary source for finding franchise cornerstones, but said the team will also utilize free agency and any other available method to build a winner.
"We're going to spend whatever it takes to win, to put the best team on the field," he said. "But I think that people have to realize that the majority of spending in the National Football League comes when you draft a player and then you re-sign him. We will be happy to spend in free agency, but we have to draft well and build a foundation for this team. We're open minded – whatever we've got to do to win. The new coach is going to have great input into how we proceed here. But if you look at the teams that are challenging for the Super Bowl this year, I think fundamentally they're built through the draft, supplemented with free-agency."
The Bucs, who were one of the NFL's youngest teams in each of the last two seasons, still believe in that youthful talent base and aren't prepared to abandon the plan that was set in motion three years ago. However, the philosophies of the candidates for the open head coaching job will also be considered when finding the perfect fit.
"I think we are going to look at both," said Dominik. "I think certainly we are going to find out what that person's philosophy is in terms of what he believes in, how you build an organization, some of the key elements. Certainly we're going to talk to him about our football team and what we have so far, what he perceives we have in terms of talent and ability and the things that need to be done. But that's a collaborative effort that we all have to feel comfortable with – myself, the new head coach, ownership. When we all get together and make the decision for the new head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, we'll all be on the same page, making sure we get the right person up here to lead this team to where we want to go and win a championship."
Focusing on Florida
During Monday's press conference, Glazer also fielded a question regarding the Buccaneers' two recent trips to London and whether the team was interested in becoming a frequent participant in the International Series overseas. Glazer made it clear that the second trip to Wembley Stadium in 2011 was not the beginning of a more permanent Buccaneer presence in London, and that the team was focused on building and satisfying its fan base at home in Florida.
"As you know, we played this year [in London], but we spoke to the league recently and informed them that we wouldn't want to be participating in the foreseeable future," said Glazer. "I think we were helping the NFL build internationally. We believe greatly in that, but for the foreseeable future we told them we want to focus on building our base here."