TAMPA Raheem Morris spent a good part of Monday building a game plan for Tampa Bay's season-ending matchup with Atlanta and at least a small part of it building a case for himself to remain as head coach.
In his most pointed comments yet, Morris attributed the team's nine-game losing streak to the organizational decision to rebuild through the draft, suggesting the Bucs will be better a year from now than they were in 2010 – if they stay the course.
"I will never fire myself,'' said Morris, who led Tampa Bay to a 10-6 record last season and was runner-up to New England's Bill Belichick in coach of the year voting. "You don't go from being a coach of the year candidate to being the worst coach in the league to getting fired within a year.
"But we made a collective agreement to go young when we took over this program, and in order to upgrade at certain positions, sometimes you have to get worse before you get better. And we still have a chance to be better (in 2012) than we were (in 2010). We can be. I believe that.''
The Bucs began their youth movement in 2009, when the Glazer family, which owns the team, fired coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen and promoted Morris and Mark Dominik to replace them, respectively. In 2010, Tampa Bay was the youngest team in the league and it got even younger this season.
On defense, the team allowed middle linebacker Barrett Ruud to leave in free agency, handing the starting job to rookie third-round draft pick Mason Foster. First-round pick Adrian Clayborn has started every game at right defensive end and second-round pick Da'Quan Bowers has started the past five at left end.
"Going out and getting a young middle linebacker was something we decided to do and we did it,'' Morris said. "Whether or not at the beginning we were both on the same page or all three of us, including the Glazers, were on the same page doesn't matter. At the end of the day, we decided to do it and we went out and did it."
Decisions of that nature didn't seem to hurt the Bucs early in the season. They started 4-2, including victories against New Orleans and Atlanta, who entered Monday night's game vying for the NFC South title.
But Morris' job is in jeopardy as a result of the nine-game slide that continued Saturday with a 48-16 loss at Carolina, dropping Tampa Bay to 4-11 and assuring the team of a last-place finish in the NFC South for the fourth time in eight seasons.
Rookies and veterans alike tried to do too much on their own against the Panthers, Morris said, and not enough of what they're coached to do during the week. An offseason spent working with the players, something no team got this season because of the lockout, could rectify those and other problems plaguing Tampa Bay, he said.
"This year, we'll have a chance to have an offseason, to be with (the players), to clean up some things," Morris said. "This year, we'll have some great examples of how to lose games and how to win games, because we've got the last two years to look at.''
The 2010 season, Morris said, was an example of players following his formula of playing fast, hard, smart and consistent, competing and not turning the ball over. He also suggested the Bucs may not have been as good as their 10-6 record suggested.
"Last year, the same team won 10 games, through a little bit of smoke and mirrors so to speak, but that's not the point,'' Morris said. "Even when we won 10 games, we barely won those 10 games. That's the point. That just lets you know (we) have a chance to get better in the offseason."
Tampa Bay has committed 26 turnovers this season and is on pace to break the team record for points allowed of 473, set in 1986.
"(This year), it's been a little bit of everything," Morris said. "I believe in my guys. I believe in the system. I believe in the program, in what we do and in everybody in this building, so it's a buying-in factor.
"And either you're buying in or you don't.''