In his second game in his new post, Morris is set to lead the Falcons (1-5) against the Detroit Lions (2-3) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
In the wake of Dan Quinn’s firing Oct. 11, Morris asked the Falcons to step it up, and they did. They went out and looked like a new team against the Vikings. Now, the question is, was that just an emotional win or can Morris get them to play some sustainable winning football.
After he was fired in Tampa Bay, Morris immediately was hired by Washington and coached the defensive backs from 2012-14. He came to the Falcons as the defensive backs/assistant head coach with Quinn in 2015.
In 2016, Morris was moved to offense and coached the wide receivers through the middle of the 2019 season. He went back went to the defense and helped the Falcons go 6-2 over the last eight games to temporarily save Quinn’s job.
After another slow start at 0-5, the Falcons handed the team over to Morris.
Now, 44 and married with kids, Morris is fine in the interim head coaching position.
“It’s really weird,” Morris said. “I kind of got this question on the radio, and I told them I’m thinking about not missing the moment and where you’re at now. Just focusing on the now and what’s next and the constant reminder of trying to go 1-0 as opposed to seeing how you’re different and how you’ve grown.”
Over the summer before participating in the Quarterback Summit, Morris did reflect on the Tampa Bay days.
“You went into (the position), and there was no manual for that job,” Morris told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “You go into it and how you feel like you learned from the people you’ve been around. I’d been around some really good people in a limited amount of places because I was so young at 32.”
He went to Washington (2012-14) and then to Atlanta (2015-present) and has worked with Mike Shanahan, Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay, Matt LaFleur and Dan Quinn.
He’s exchanged information with Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy.
“The way this thing has evolved and the way this thing has moved, has done nothing but help me grow and develop into and ultimately becoming an all-around team, complementary-football base deal,” Morris said.
He also credits his time with Raiders coach Jon Gruden, former Washington coach Jay Gruden and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin as main influencers.
“I think the development over the last couple of years has been beneficial for me,” Morris said.
Morris knows that if he does a good job with the Falcons, he’ll be back in the mix for head coaching jobs around the league. But just don’t call him the interim coach.
“Right now, at this particular time, I’m just staying in the moment, I don’t correct you guys every day because I’m angry at anybody, but if I’m in the moment of being an interim head coach, then you’ll be the interim head coach,” Morris said. “You will go about your business and do your deal. I’m focused on being the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons and being in the moment right now to go 1-0 this week.”
The past few hiring cycles have been heavily criticized by the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which monitors league-wide hiring practices. Morris and Romeo Crennel in Houston have added to the ranks of minority head coaches for the rest of the season.
“I think that we have to do a better job to make sure that everybody has an opportunity,” Detroit coach Matt Patricia said. “We are doing our due diligence with that and making sure that we are developing coaches. Obviously, (Miami Dolphins coach) Brian Flores is a close personal friend of mine’s. He’s so qualified to be where he is. He’s earned that.”
Patricia noted that the Lions have a program that helps develop minority coaches.
Morris appears to be a long shot to replace Quinn based on Blank’s initial comments.
“Absolutely,” Blank said when asked if Morris would have a chance to be the next coach. “If Raheem goes 11-0, he’ll certainly be a candidate. I mean, that’s what his aspiration is. I do think, and I said this to him, it has nothing to do with the timing, but we were chatting, I said, often my experience with interim head coaches has been no more than three games.”
Blank then noted that he has had two interim situations, each for only three games. Morris has a much longer period.
“This, I think, is unusual, 11 games to go,” Blank said before the Minnesota game. “I think it’s to Raheem’s advantage. I know his aspirations long-term are to be a head coach again. He’s learned a lot since his Tampa Bay days, he’s learned a lot with us.”
Blank then seemed to contradict his original comment about going 11-0.
“I’m sure he’s more mature, more polished, more finished, aspirationally and technically,” Blank said. "I think in 11 games he’ll have a chance to show his own capabilities. I think he’s looking forward to that. Whether it be with us or somebody else in the future, we’ll see. That’s a lot of games. He’ll have the ability to step forward and step up and do everything that we hope he’s capable of doing. He believes he is.”
It’s difficult evaluating interim head coaches.
“I’ve known Raheem for a long time,” Patricia said. “He’s a great coach. He’s organized. Played against him when he was the head coach at Tampa and (was impressed) with how hard and how phenomenal his guys played for him.”
Patricia understands why Morris doesn’t want to be called the “interim” head coach.
“I think anybody in any profession, when you have an opportunity, you try to make the most it and go forward from there,” Patricia said.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who’s in his 13th season in the league, has played for two head coaches, Mike Smith and Quinn. Morris has leaned on Ryan for help.
“I’m right behind Raheem in trying to get guys to push themselves out of their comfort zone during the week to get themselves ready to go on Sunday,” Ryan said.
Morris took home a game ball from the Falcons' first victory.
“Everybody’s personality, everybody’s style is a little bit different,” Ryan said. "Raheem is guy who connects to everybody for sure. He’s coached on both sides of the ball. So, he has a really good feel for schemes on both sides.
“He’s blunt. He’s matter of fact, and he gets to the point. So, that’s his personality type. That’s his style, and I think guys, as players, you have to buy into the head coach and what he’s teaching. Do the best that you can with how he’s laying things out for you. I think guys have done a good job of that. Raheem has made his plan for us really clear, and it’s been good.”
Falcons' next four games
Lions at Falcons at 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 25
Falcons at Panthers at 8:20 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 29
Broncos at Falcons at 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 8
Falcons at Saints at 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 22
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