Raheem Morris (left) has coached an outstanding group of Buccaneer defensive backs and now will inherit the defense as a whole from Monte Kiffin
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn't have to cast their net very wide to find the perfect replacement for departing Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin.
In fact, the man for the job was just one door down from Kiffin's corner office at One Buccaneer Place.
On Thursday, the Buccaneers announced that Raheem Morris will be the new defensive coordinator, beginning with the 2009 season. At the conclusion of the 2008 campaign, Kiffin will be ending his 13-year run in that post in order to join the staff of his son, Lane Kiffin, the new head coach at the University of Tennessee.
Morris has spent the past two seasons as the Buccaneers' defensive backs coach, marking his second stint on Tampa Bay's staff. He first joined the team in 2002, starting out as a defensive quality control coach before ascending rapidly up the ranks. He was named a defensive assistant in 2003 and then assistant defensive backs coach in 2004-05, as he worked closely with current Pittsburgh Head Coach Mike Tomlin, who was then in charge of the Bucs' secondary.
Morris jumped to the college ranks in 2006, serving as the defensive coordinator at Kansas State for one year before the Bucs convinced him to return to Tampa. That move was a coup — the Bucs improved from 19th in the NFL in pass defense in 2006 to first in 2007 — and it has proved even more significant now that Kiffin has chosen to take on a new challenge. It's not merely a matter of preserving the "Tampa Two" with an in-house selection; rather Morris is seen as the right choice to build on the team's existing strengths.
"We've evolved," said Head Coach Jon Gruden, who made the announcement to the team on Thursday afternoon. "Raheem's been with me a long time and I've got a lot of respect for him. He's taken steps every year. He's had a hand in a lot of the success that we've had here. Obviously he's got some big shoes to fill, but I think he's capable. I just think it's fair to the players that they know that we're committed to this defense, the style of defense. Nothing's going to stay the same. It never does, no matter who's the coordinator on a yearly basis. I just feel like it's the right thing to do. I'm excited about it and I believe he'll get it done."
Just 32 years old, Morris becomes one of the NFL's youngest coordinators and potentially a cornerstone for the Buccaneers for years to come. Young but experienced, with a deep well of football knowledge to match his boundless enthusiasm, Morris is an exciting choice to lead what has become one of the NFL's signature units. He inherits a defense that has ranked in the top 10 in the NFL 10 times over the past 12 years and could make it an 11th in 2008 if it maintains its current rank of 9th through Sunday's game against Oakland.
Morris also inherits a crew that features several regulars who are older than he is, including Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber and Kevin Carter. That hasn't hindered him in any of his previous posts, however; he has garnered the players' respect with his infectious enthusiasm and his strict attention to detail.
"I'm a big energy believer," said Gruden. "I like guys with 'juice.' I think you have to be a leader. I think you have to be able to motivate and stimulate these guys, relate to them — veterans, young players. He knows the kind of players we're looking for. He knows the routine here in terms of what it takes to play in this system. I've been impressed with him throughout the six, seven years I've been with him. He's had a year coordinating in the Big 12, and I think it's the right thing to do. I think our players will respond to him."
Despite its veteran center and another potential top-10 ranking in 2008, the Buccaneers' defense is also in transition. Such budding stars as Tanard Jackson, Barrett Ruud, Aqib Talib and Gaines Adams are still learning on the job. Morris will have the opportunity to forge a new core for Tampa Bay's proud defense in the coming years.
Prior to his arrival in Tampa in 2002, Morris served a Minority Coaches Fellowship Internship with the New York Jets in 2001. He began his coaching career at Hofstra, his alma mater, in 1998, moving up from graduate assistant to defensive backs coach in 2000-01. He played four seasons at Hofstra as a safety.