ARIZONA CARDINALS

Falcons hire Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris as head coach

Jan 25, 2024, 4:17 PM

Defensive coordinator Raheem Morris...

Defensive coordinator Raheem Morris (L) and head coach Sean McVay (R) of the Los Angeles Rams watch action during a game against the Chicago Bears at SoFi Stadium on September 12, 2021 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons have hired Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris as their head coach after an exhaustive search that included six-time Super Bowl winner Bill Belichick, a person familiar with the decision told The Associated Press on Thursday.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the team had not made an announcement.

The 47-year-old Morris is a familiar name in Atlanta, having served as the Falcons’ interim head coach for the final 11 games of the 2020 season after the firing of Dan Quinn. He previously coached the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for three seasons.

Morris was hired by the Falcons after an exhaustive search in which 14 candidates were interviewed, with Belichick the most notable among them.

Earlier Thursday, the team conducted a second interview with Houston Texans offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik, but decided in the end to go with a coach who worked in Atlanta from 2015-2020.

Morris becomes the first non-interim Black coach in Falcons history and joins general manager Terry Fontenot, who also is Black, in leading a franchise that hasn’t had a winning season since 2017.

After being passed over for the Falcons job after the 2020 season in favor of Arthur Smith, Morris moved to the Rams. He spent three seasons as that team’s defensive coordinator, a tenure that included a Super Bowl championship his first year.

Smith was fired by the Falcons shortly after their final regular-season game. He went 7-10 in each of his three seasons.

Morris was just 33 years old when he got his first head coaching job with the Buccaneers in 2009. He lasted three seasons, finishing with one winning season, no playoff appearances and a record of 17-31.

During his previous time in Atlanta, Morris worked on both sides of the line as a pass game coordinator, receivers coach and secondary coach under Quinn. He was promoted to defensive coordinator ahead of the 2020 season, moving up to interim head coach after Quinn was fired following an 0-5 start.

Morris guided the Falcons to a 4-7 mark the rest of the season, leaving his career record as a head coach at 21-38. He was the first of seven candidates to interview for the full-time job that eventually went to Smith, who was offensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans.

Morris is just the second coach in Atlanta history to get two stints as the team’s head coach. Marion Campbell held the job from 1974-76 and returned to the post from 1987-89, failing to produce a winning season in either stint.

The hiring of Morris came as something of a surprise, given the team’s clear interest in a coach of Belichick’s stature and its interviews with several other assistants, including Slowik, who were considered rising stars.

It will be especially interesting to see how the new coach is viewed by a fan base that had grown increasingly apathetic in the midst of six straight losing seasons and the Falcons’ failure to produce a Super Bowl title over their 58-year history.

Many thought owner Arthur Blank would go for a big name, given the thousands of empty seats that have become the norm at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Under Morris this past season, the Rams’ defense ranked 20th in yards allowed (337.9 per game), 13th in passing yards (231.1), 12th in rushing yards (106.8) and 18th in scoring defense (22.3 points per game).

Morris is the fourth minority hire during this coaching cycle, joining Dave Canales in Carolina, Jerod Mayo in New England and Antonio Pierce in Las Vegas. That brings the NFL total to nine minority coaches, a group that also includes Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin, Houston’s DeMeco Ryans, Tampa Bay’s Todd Bowles, Miami’s Mike McDaniel and the New York Jets’ Robert Saleh.

It will be the most minority NFL head coaches ever entering a season.

“This is a major milestone for the National Football League, which has been struggling to raise the percentage of head coaches of color, particularly Black head coaches,” said Richard Lapchick, founder of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics In Sport (TIDES). “The NFL has worked hard to put programs in place to make this happen and the rewards have finally come home.”

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