Two prominent announcers working Saturday night's game disagreed on whether the NFL lockout hurt the Tampa Bay Buccaneers more than other teams, but both Steve Mariucci and Randy Cross said head coach Raheem Morris should be retained.
Although Tampa Bay came into the nationally televised matchup against Dallas with a seven-game losing streak, Cross and Mariucci said before the game Morris deserves a fourth season on the Bucs sideline.
"I think Raheem's a perfect fit for this team,'' Mariucci said on the field at Raymond James Stadium before participating in the NFL Network's pregame show with Deion Sanders.
"He and this young team need time to mature and grow. I'd absolutely give him another year. There's no question a lockout hurts a young team more than a veteran team. A club like the Bucs really needed all those (offseason workouts) because they were right on the edge of making a move.''
Cross, a former Pro Bowl center for the 49ers, served as an analyst for Westwood One radio Saturday night.
"I'm not sure the Bucs were affected more than other teams by the lockout,'' Cross said. "Did it hurt Tampa more than it hurt San Francisco or Denver? Not necessarily, in my opinion.''
Cross expects Morris, 35, to be a different coach in 2012, if the Bucs don't make a change.
"If Raheem learns anything from this season, it might be that being a so-called 'player's coach' isn't always the best thing,'' Cross said. "Part of it is his age. There are a lot of examples of coaches early in their careers who get close to the guys they come in with.
"But at some point, there's got to be separation because these are the same players you're going to have to cut or discipline. I can tell you for a fact that the Bill Walsh who coached San Francisco in 1979 was a different guy by 1983 – not nearly as close with his players.''
Josh Freeman's struggles haven't prompted any doubts from Mariucci regarding the future of Tampa Bay's 23-year-old quarterback.
"I love Freeman, he's big and tough and smart,'' Mariucci said. "In my opinion, he's a rising star. Every quarterback has a rough year, but with the lockout and all the young guys around him, I'm giving Josh Freeman a mulligan this season.''
For Cross, tough love is a key missing ingredient in Tampa.
"I'm not big on itchy trigger fingers when it comes to replacing coaches,'' Cross said. "I think Raheem and (general manager) Mark Dominik have a pretty good plan, but I think they're going to have to be more detached and business-like.
"When this season's over, those two are going to have to kick a lot of guys in the (butt).''