After saying for weeks that Tampa Bay would wait until after the season to name Monte Kiffin's successor at defensive coordinator, the Bucs named defensive backs coach Raheem Morris as the defensive coordinator for the 2009 season.
Morris will take over duties as coordinator following the season, and Kiffin will continue to call the defensive plays for Tampa Bay in the Bucs remaining regular season game and possible playoff games. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden explained the decision to go with Morris as his defensive coordinator.
"Well he's been with me a long time, and he has had a lot of success here," said Gruden. "He's had his hand in a lot of real good things. I like this defense. I believe in it, and certainly believe in Raheem Morris. I believe he'll be outstanding. We wanted to make sure our players knew, and I wanted to end the speculation.
"Raheem has been with me along time. I have 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 has some big shoes to fill, but I think he is capable, and I just think it is fair to the players that they know that we are committed to this defense. This style of defense, nothing is going to stay the same no matter who is the coordinator on a yearly basis. I just feel like it is the right thing to do. I'm excited about it and I think he'll get it done."
Morris, 32, served as an assistant under Kiffin and former defensive backs coach Mike Tomlin from 2002-05 when he left to become the defensive coordinator at Kansas State University for the 2006 season. When Kiffin's defense fell from the top 10 in '06, general manager Bruce Allen aggressively pursued Morris and enticed him to return to Tampa Bay to replace Tomlin's replacement, Greg Burns, who had been fired as defensive backs coach after just one season.
After one year in which Morris' Wildcat defense led the Big 12 in sacks, he returned to the Bucs in 2007 and helped Tampa Bay's pass defense improve from ranking 19th in the NFL to becoming the league's top-ranked unit. Several veterans improved their fundamentals upon, perhaps no one more than strong safety Jermaine Phillips, who had a career year and led the team with four interceptions.
Morris also played an instrumental role in developing rookie free safety Tanard Jackson last year. In fact, Tampa Bay's strongest unit last year might have been the safety position.
"Right now this will be Monte's last home game unless we make it to the Super Bowl. Wouldn't that be great? But there has been a lot of speculation. Monte is leaving, who is going to be the replacement. I just think it is more than fair to let our players know that we are going to continue to march onward, and Raheem Morris will take over and do a heck of a job.
"I'll be honest with you. It was Christmas last night and I wanted to give him a Christmas present. I thought that was great gift to him honestly. I've had my coordinators with me seven years: Bill Muir, Rich Bisaccia, and Monte Kiffin. We are going to lose a very key component to our unit. I just thought for Raheem, being that it was Christmas Eve, I wanted to give him something to be excited about and reward him for his hard work and efforts. I wanted our team to know that there is no more speculation okay. We are going to keep our playbook somewhat the same."
The Buccaneers defense is ranked ninth in the NFL entering the final contest of the season. Morris has coached the Bucs secondary to being apart of the fifth ranked passing defense in the NFL in 2008. During Morris tenure with the Bucs, the pass defense ended the season as the top-ranked pass defense in 2002, 2004, and 2007. The pass defense never ranked lower than sixth under with Morris on the coaching staff. Morris' contract was up with Tampa Bay after the season, and he was viewed as a targeted defensive coordinator prospect around the NFL.
"Well I'm sure he would have [been]," said Gruden. "And you'd be surprised at the number of people that wanted to come here. I've been probably been taking too many calls for the past three weeks, and that's distracting. I could tell you who those people are. It is exciting. You know everybody is asking too many questions about what is happening next year, and here is what's happening we play Oakland on Sunday, and it is going to be a great day for us because it gives us an opportunity to play again. Raheem will be the coordinator (next season). Hopefully all the people that were interested in coming here can forgive me. You know I want to keep my friend with me. A guy I've seen develop here in front of my eyes. I'm excited about it."