Buccaneers’ Morris, Rams’ Spagnuolo fired

Posted Jan. 02, 2012, at 9:10 p.m.

The Buccaneers fired Raheem Morris on Monday after his three seasons as Tampa Bay’s head coach while the St. Louis Rams fired head coach Steve Spagnuolo, who was also head coach for three seasons.

In St. Louis, the Rams made a six-win improvement last season and played for the NFC West title in the finale, but were just 10-38 overall in three seasons with Spagnuolo and Devaney calling the shots. Devaney joined the front office in 2008, but the Rams were 12-52 in his four years as GM.

“It’s amazing how easily it all could have gone the other way and this would be a totally different meeting at the end of the year,” Long said. “And, maybe we are still playing. It’s a fine line between being good and bad in the NFL, and we’ve learned that over the past couple of years here.”

Owner Stan Kroenke fired his coach and GM with one year remaining on their contracts, and with fan interest dwindling. The Edward Jones Dome was little more than half-full later in the year and the team had to purchase tickets to meet requirements for a sellout in the finale.

“No one individual is to blame for this disappointing season and we all must hold ourselves accountable,” Kroenke said in a statement issued by the Rams. “However, we believe it’s in the best interest of the St. Louis Rams to make these changes as we continue our quest to build a team that consistently competes for playoffs and championships.”

Players said Spagnuolo, who was an assistant coach at the University of Maine in 1993-94, took the high road in a meeting Monday morning.

“Coach addressed the team this morning to let us know that he was terminated and he was sorry, especially for the guys that have been here the entire three years he was coach, that he didn’t get the job done,” running back Steven Jackson said. “He took full responsibility.”

Next April, the Rams will have the second pick of the draft, the fourth time in five seasons with the No. 1 or 2 selection. The premium picks, including Long and quarterback Sam Bradford, have not been enough to make up the frequent miscues and a puny offense run by first-year coordinator Josh McDaniels.

Spagnuolo was considered a defensive whiz after an impressive performance by the Giants in a Super Bowl upset of the unbeaten Patriots in 2008, and got a four-year contract for his first head coaching job. The Rams were 1-15 in 2009 while undertaking a massive overhaul, then made a six-victory improvement in 2010, and entered this season viewed as NFC West contenders.

Instead, they were swamped by a difficult schedule, losing their first six in a row, and also by injuries at quarterback, the secondary and the offensive line.

In Tampa Bay, the Bucs announced the change one day after a 45-24 loss to the Atlanta Falcons extended the franchise’s longest losing streak within the same season since 1977 to 10 games.

Morris went 17-31, including a 10-6 mark in 2010, when the Bucs (4-12) narrowly missed the playoffs. His entire staff of assistants was dismissed, too.

“I have has a lot of respect and appreciation for the passion coach Morris gave to our football team, but this change is one we felt was necessary,” general manager Mark Dominik said in a brief statement released by the team, which is owned by the Glazer family.

The 35-year-old Morris was hired in January 2009, replacing Jon Gruden after Tampa Bay lost the final four games of 2008 to miss the playoffs following a 9-3 start.

This year’s collapse followed a 4-2 start that included wins over NFC South rivals New Orleans and Atlanta, which are both headed to the playoffs.

Morris began his stint as the NFL’s youngest coach with a seven-game losing streak. It ended with a skid that rivaled some of the worst stretches in franchise history, in part because it came only a year after it looked like the Bucs might be headed in the right direction.

With young quarterback Josh Freeman showing great promise in his first full season as a starter, Tampa Bay won 10 games in 2010 to barely miss the playoffs. Morris entered training camp following the NFL lockout, declaring he had a “youngry” team that was confident it could compete with more experienced NFC South rivals New Orleans and Atlanta for the division crown.

The team’s promising start included wins at home over the Falcons and Saints that lent credence to the coach’s assertion that a 48-3 road loss to San Francisco was simply a bad day at the office, not a sign that the Bucs were not nearly as good as their record suggested.

Injuries contributed to the season-ending slide, but so did inconsistent play starting with Freeman who threw for 16 touchdowns vs. 22 interceptions after tossing 25 TD passes and being intercepted just six times in 2010. The Bucs turned the ball over a league-leading 40 times compared to 19 last season.

Spagnuolo and GM Billy Devaney were both fired Monday, one day after the Rams wrapped up a 2-14 season tied for the NFL’s worst.

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