The Atlanta Falcons elected not to hire incumbent defensive coordinator and interim head coach Raheem Morris as their head coach during the 2020-21 offseason. Instead, the Falcons anointed Arthur Smith with the job.
Three years later, the Falcons aren’t skipping over Morris again.
NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported on Thursday that Atlanta is planning to hire Morris as their next head coach.
With so many strong coaching candidates available in this hiring cycle, Atlanta’s decision to bring Morris back will likely be debated for weeks. But there is a lot to like about Morris as the team’s next head coach.
Previous Experience as an NFL Head Coach
Before the Sean McVays and the Kyle Shanahans of the NFL world, a lot of teams wanted to find the next Mike Tomlin. After just one season as a defensive coordinator, Tomlin led the Steelers to a Super Bowl victory during his second season as head coach in February 2009.
Morris started in the NFL as a very young defensive backs coach just as Tomlin did. In fact, Morris and Tomlin were both assistant coaches for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2002-05.
The Buccaneers hired Morris as head coach two and a half weeks before Tomlin’s Super Bowl victory.
However, unlike Tomlin, Morris probably wasn’t quite ready to be an NFL head coach. After a pair of 9-7 seasons, the Buccaneers went 3-13 in Morris’ first season.
Behind a career-year from quarterback Josh Freeman, the Buccaneers improved to 10-6 in 2010. But with the Falcons and Saints winning 13 and 11 games, respectively, the Buccaneers missed the playoffs.
The Buccaneers then went 4-12 in 2011, which was Morris’ final season in Tampa Bay.
Obviously, Morris didn’t have a successful stint as Buccaneers head coach. But now more than a decade later, he should be able to learn from his mistakes to be a better head coach in Atlanta.
Tomlin has certainly been an advocate for Morris receiving a second head coach opportunity.
Previous Experience in Atlanta, Success as DC
Morris likely had to wait a long time for another head coaching opportunity because of his poor finish in Tampa Bay. But since then, he’s had tremendous success as a defensive coordinator and even a little as an interim head coach.
Replacing Dan Quinn in 2020, Morris led the Falcons to a 4-7 record. Although that’s not overall impressive, Morris took over an 0-5 team. Despite that, the Falcons posted a 4-2 record in his first six games before a five-game losing streak to end the season.
After not becoming Falcons head coach, Morris served as Rams defensive coordinator in 2021 when the team won the Super Bowl. In three seasons under Morris, Los Angeles’ defense finished top 20 in yards allowed every year.
During 2021, the Rams were second in passing touchdowns allowed and third in interceptions. And his players loved him.
The Sean McVay, Kyle Shanahan Coaching Tree
Morris has ties with Tomlin that go back to the early 2000s. But Morris has also worked with two of the best modern offensive minds in the league — McVay and Shanahan.
In 2016, Morris worked as Atlanta’s assistant head coach and wide receivers coach while Shanahan served as offensive coordinator. That season was the team’s most successful, as it ended with a Matt Ryan MVP award and Super Bowl trip. However, Morris held an offensive job with the Falcons from 2016-19.
Morris moved back to the defensive side in 2020 and remained there when he coached under McVay. But coaching in Los Angeles gave Morris additional first-hand experience working with a modern offensive guru.
That experience could help Morris fill out his offensive staff.
The Falcons still have to find a quarterback. But in Morris, the team has found a defensive minded head coach with connections to fill out his first staff with bright, young offensive minds.