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Martin Fennelly Columns

Morris needed to be a leader for young Bucs

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Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 09:40 AM
TAMPA -

Former Bucs safety and forever Bucs legend John Lynch once told me a story about his former coach Mike Tomlin. It resonates in the wake of Raheem Morris' firing. Tomlin and Morris are tight, Lynch and Morris are friends.

Still, listen to the story …

"When Mike got hired in Pittsburgh, when they got him up there, I remember Hines Ward and Ben (Roethlisberger) calling me," Lynch said. "They were asking, hey, what are we getting, just like players always do when there's a new guy. I said, 'Oh, my gosh, you'll love this guy.'

"Then, about three months later in training camp, the same guys are calling me, saying what were you talking about, this guy is ridiculous, he's so hard, 17 straight days of two-a-days, are you kidding me?"

Lynch laughed.

"I was talking to Mike about that later and he said it was the loneliest year of my life, but he said he knew he had to do it. He had to establish himself. Even if he didn't want to do it, even if they went backwards at first, he had to be the coach."

The story is instructive when it comes to Morris' immediate past and immediate future, the latter of which is still promising. He'll coach again. And one day he might get a chance to be a head coach again, if not in the NFL then at the college level. Who knows, the Bucs might see Raheem as the one who got away. He needs a growth spurt as badly as his players.

I have no doubt that Bucs players loved Raheem. To know him is to like him. To meet him is to like him. Raheem Morris has that quality. He's a man of the people. But that worked against him in his first head coaching job. He couldn't separate himself from his players, and when push came to shove, his message was partly doomed by that, especially during the months-long death drop.

Tony Dungy was 40 when he got his first head coaching job. Tomlin and Gruden are the two youngest coaches to win a Super Bowl. So, it's more than just age. It's maturity. It's that ability to control what you have to control and to know how to do it. I would never accuse any of those guys, no matter how young they were, of being one of the guys.

Once, because of wild weather in Philadelphia and canceled flights, I flew on the Bucs' charter flight to a playoff game when Dungy was head coach. The most educational thing was where the head coach sat. Dungy wasn't up in first class with the other coaches. He sat in the very back of the plane. He always did that. It was because he could see everything that was going on from there.

It's about being in charge.

Dungy was never the hammer when he was coaching here. He had enforcers. Herm Edwards was one. Dungy's strength was that he never wavered from who he was. As well as he was liked, he was more respected than anything. It was always clear he was the coach and the players were the players.

Leadership matters.

I think Morris will learn from all this, or maybe getting older will take care of it.

But it has to be around another team. You can't come in one way with a team and change in midstream. That worked against Raheem in Tampa. He was a players' guy, young like them, wise to their ways, partly because some of their ways were his ways. This team had few players who were leaders, or old enough to be leaders, so it put a premium on the head coach.

Raheem will grow into his game somewhere else. He'll inspire players. He'll be the coach, and the players will be players. It's not easy to do at first. But it pays off. It beats what just happened here.

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