MOBILE, Ala. — Any successful defensive back will tell you that having a short memory ranks high on the list of requirements for playing the position.
Give up a big play — no matter how costly — and a cornerback or safety must flush it from his mind, move onto the next snap and try again. Dwelling on one letdown will lead only to more failures.
So it should come as no surprise that new Washington Redskins defensive backs coach Raheem Morris, who was fired earlier this month as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, wanted nothing to do with the post-firing sabbatical that many coaches take.
“I don’t do time off. I’m a football coach,” said Morris, a former safety at Hofstra University. “I don’t have an ego that’ll say I couldn’t go back and help another team win a football game and help another team win a championship. That’s what I want to do.”
The Buccaneers fired Morris on Jan. 2. A year after a 10-6 campaign in his second season at the helm, Morris and his team in 2011 failed to overcome a rash of injuries after a 4-2 start and ended the year on a 10-game losing streak.
Morris quickly turned his attention to the future.
“Tampa was a great experience. I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” he said. “You’ve got to have the ability to be better, the ability to overcome certain situations. You can’t have hard feelings. The old ‘woe is me,’ has got to be kicked out of your system, and you’ve got to go get ready to help somebody else win.”
Two days after his dismissal, Morris interviewed with Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan and General Manager Bruce Allen. Morris left Washington with an offer, but asked for time to consider his options. Two days after that, he interviewed with the Vikings for their defensive coordinator position, but Minnesota continued to interview other candidates.
Morris on Jan. 11 orally accepted the Redskins’ offer for a one-year deal. The very next day, Minnesota called with an offer, having been turned down by Jacksonville defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. But Morris declined as well, even though his position with Washington carried less responsibility.
Morris has strong ties to the Redskins. During his early days in Tampa he worked with Allen, Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, Washington tight ends coach Sean McVay and Redskins director of football operations Paul Kelly, so those relationships carried a lot of weight. But Morris said he also believed it would have been wrong to back out on the Redskins to take the Vikings’ offer.
“A lot of people might think it’s a missed opportunity not going to Minnesota after they offered,” Morris said. “But I believe that in this game, all you have is your word and your tape, and I gave these guys my word, and I wanted to come here and help them this year, and I was going to do it.”
Vikings Coach Leslie Frazier said his opinion of Morris remains unchanged.
“Raheem is a sharp young guy who does a good job with players and understands football, and how to get players to perform,” Frazier said at last week’s Senior Bowl, where he and his staff coached the North against the Redskins’ coaches and the South team. “Every coach has to do a good job of communicating with their players, and he has that. That’s a prerequisite of coaching in today’s NFL: communication. He’s a good guy and he’s going to do well there in Washington.”
Charley Casserly, an NFL analyst and former general manager of the Redskins and Houston Texans, agrees with Frazier about Morris’s potential.
“The Redskins made a good addition in hiring Raheem,” Casserly said. “He has experience as a head coach, he relates well to players and will help their defensive backs improve. And working with the Redskins’ staff will help him grow as a coach.”
That opportunity for growth excites Morris, who after working in 4-3 defenses all his career now must learn Haslett’s 3-4 scheme while also getting to know the defensive coordinator better.
While Morris already had strong relationships with a number of people at Redskins Park, Haslett was not one of them. The two had met years ago as NFC South opponents when Haslett coached the New Orleans Saints, but they weren’t close. And when Morris interviewed with the Redskins, he met with Allen and Shanahan, but not Haslett.
But Shanahan didn’t believe that would cause any friction between the two, and he said he has no doubt that the two former head coaches can coexist as assistants on his staff.
“Raheem is a guy with a great personality,” Shanahan said. “He gets along well with people. He gets along well with players. I know just from spending time with these guys that they’ll both hit it off great.”
Haslett didn’t put a timeline on how long he thought it would take for Morris to fully learn the 3-4 defense, but said he isn’t worried.
“He’s a good technician; he understands the game,” Haslett said. “He’s got to get up to speed on what we’re doing and all that. But you can tell he’s an energetic, intelligent guy, loves football, and I’m looking forward to working with him.”
And so it is with excitement and a singular goal that Morris aligns with the Redskins. He’s not setting a timeline for how quickly he hopes to land his next head coaching job. He said he’s not even looking for his next gig as a defensive coordinator. He simply wants to help the Redskins’ defensive backs achieve greatness.
“Every time you get the next opportunity, it’s about that opportunity. It’s about what lies next,” Morris said. “You tell players about the next snap, and for us as coaches, it’s about the next opportunity, and my next opportunity is right here in Washington.”
Shanahan on Senior Bowl: “It’s been a great week.”