There was a lot of talk about energy during a group press conference with the new offensive staff at One Bills Drive. And they do have energy. Hackett took one question and launched into a Gettysburg Address of offensive football. Morris is no slouch, either. After about 10 minutes, I was agreeing to march with him in the St. Patrick’s Day parade. Maybe we shouldn’t judge coaches by their age. Morris, who turns 59 in April, is the oldest guy on Marrone’s staff, but he might have the most energy of them all.
You see, Morris spent the last year out of coaching. After 36 years in the profession, including 15 in the NFL, he was swept out of a job early in 2012 when Raheem Morris was fired in Tampa Bay.
But he didn’t sit idle. Morris hooked up with Jon Gruden, who maintains an office for the Fired Football Coaches of America (FFCA) at a strip mall in Tampa. Morris spent the NFL season watching game film with Gruden, the iconic former coach who studies film to prepare for his weekly gig on Monday Night Football.
“So I stayed fresh with what happened in the league last year,” said Morris. “It was very interesting for me. You’re not coaching games every week with a gun to your head. We took every game and analyzed it. I would suggest it to guys.
“It’s not a bad idea to take a year off,” he said. “Being with Jon was good for me. It was a way to look at it from the other side of the fence. It really got me re-energized to get back into the game and realize how much I really enjoyed it.”
Morris said he had coaching offers after Tampa Bay (also some rejections), but nothing that felt comfortable. It briefly occurred to him that Tampa would be a nice place for retirement. But once he got busy with Gruden, he knew his heart was still in the game. He was just waiting for a place that fit.
That place was Buffalo. Doug Marrone, an offensive lineman by trade, had great respect for Morris. Marrone coached in the 2006 Pro Bowl when he was with the Saints. He talked with two of Morris’ linemen, the Vikings’ Matt Birk and Steve Hutchinson, who raved about him.
Hackett knew Morris, too. His dad, Paul Hackett, coached at USC when Morris began his coaching career there in the late 1970s. Paul later spent three years on the same 49ers staff as Bobb McKittrick, who coached the offensive line for five Super Bowl champions from 1979 to ’99.
Morris coached with the Niners from 1997 to 2003. He took over as the Niners’ O-line coach when McKittrick died in 2000. So in Morris, the Bills get an offensive line coach from the Bill Walsh tree, whose branches extend through several generations of offensive football.
“I grew up knowing who Pat Morris was,” Hackett said. “I have clinic tapes of Bobb McKittrick and Bill Walsh speaking. I watch them to learn from that old school world. It’s valuable to have a veteran guy like Pat, who was there from the foundation and the very beginning.”
NFL offenses continue to evolve. Some teams are running plays at a faster pace than ever. Young quarterbacks are winning with the read option. Marrone and Hackett ran the no-huddle in Syracuse. But offensive line play doesn’t change that much.
“There’s different ways to present it, but they’re basically all the same,” Morris said. “Pass protection is pass protection. Run blocking is run blocking. There might be little tweaks. I may have a different personality, but football is football.”
Morris is a buddy of Jim McNally, a UB grad who had a celebrated career as an NFL O-line coach and finished his career with the Bills. Morris and McNally are members of the Mushroom Club, so-named because offensive line coaches work in dark, drab obscurity.
“Oh yeah, Jim and I go way back,” Morris said. “As soon as he saw my name in the paper, he reached out to me. I’ve felt a great tie with Jim and the Buffalo community, which I’m excited about. I’ve known the Gicewicz family for years. Rich played for me at Michigan State.”
As McNally could tell you, this can be a tough place for a coach when the Bills are losing. Morris understands that. He knows that the first time a defender shoots through a gap and sacks the quarterback, people will be howling his name in derision.
“There’s pressure everywhere,” Morris said. “As a coach, you like that. I thought it was a perfect fit. I’ve always thought of Buffalo as a storied franchise. Other coaches have told me what a great place it was, what a good football town. I’m excited to be here.
“I just got up here last week. My wife will probably wait until I get a house. We lived five years in Minneapolis, so I just had to get retrained to walk in the snow and get the scraper. It didn’t take me long to figure that out.”