Tampa Bay’s Morris latest coaching candidate to meet with NFL Broncos

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Raheem Morris’ interviewing skills could make his promotion to defensive coordinator in Tampa Bay a moot point.

The Buccaneers’ 32-year-old secondary coach and defensive whiz moved up his interview 48 hours and met with the Denver Broncos about their coaching vacancy Monday.

He’s the third candidate to speak with Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, who stunned the NFL last week by firing Mike Shanahan after 14 seasons.

Shanahan, who won back-to-back Super Bowls in the late 1990s but just one playoff game in the 10 years since John Elway retired, is expected to take a year off before returning to coaching. He has three years and more than $20 million left on his contract, and sitting out next season would cost Bowlen about $7 million for Shanahan to stay away from Dove Valley.

It’s not known whether those financial constraints will play a role in Bowlen’s choice of a new coach. One thing’s for sure, Bowlen isn’t going to give his next coach as much power as he gave Shanahan, splitting the head coach and general manager’s jobs.

He said he’ll focus on finding a GM after he hires a coach.

Morris earned a promotion from secondary coach to defensive coordinator in Tampa Bay following the departure last week of longtime assistant Monte Kiffin, who’s joining his son, Lane, at the University of Tennessee.

Morris is the first candidate to interview in Denver. Bowlen and his search crew interviewed Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo in New York on Saturday and New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in Rhode Island on Sunday.

On Tuesday, the Broncos will host two more offensive coordinators at their team headquarters: Jason Garrett of the Dallas Cowboys and Rick Dennison, a longtime Shanahan deputy.

Like Spagnuolo, Garrett is a hot commodity. He spurned offers from Baltimore and Atlanta last offseason after the Cowboys agreed to make him the league’s highest-paid assistant at $3 million and pledged to make him head coach Wade Phillips’ eventual successor.

That was before Shanahan was on the market, however. There’s a possibility Jones would see Shanahan as a good fit in Dallas either this year or next.

Dennison, who played linebacker for the Broncos from 1982-90, joined Shanahan’s staff in 1995 and coached special teams and the offensive line before being elevated to offensive coordinator three years ago.

Although it’s Denver’s dreadful defense that needs another overhaul following a series of bad personnel moves and poor draft picks by Shanahan, the Broncos’ high-octane offense can use some tweaking itself.

The Broncos ranked second in the league in yards gained at 396 a game but just 16th in scoring at 23.1 points, an indication they could use a fresh offensive ideas to help hone Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler’s skills and iron out the inconsistencies in his game.

The Broncos, who lost an astonishing seven tailbacks to injured reserve, expect to get rookies Ryan Torain (knee) and Peyton Hillis (hamstring) back atop their depth chart in 2009 and might also target a bona fide workhouse in the draft, where they have the 12th overall pick.

If the Broncos’ next coach comes from the defensive side, the team is expected to ask him to keep some offensive assistants such as play-caller Jeremy Bates and longtime running backs coach Bobby Turner.

The Broncos need lots of help on defense, where they ranked 29th in yards and 30th in points allowed, went through six free safeties and a half-dozen linebackers and couldn’t stop the run under Bob Slowik, their third defensive coordinator in three seasons.

Shanahan was 146-91 with the Broncos, but just 24-24 since losing the 2005 AFC title game to Pittsburgh. Their three-year stretch without making the playoffs is the proud franchise’s longest drought in 26 years, and this year the Broncos became the first team to blow a three-game division lead with three weeks left.

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