FLOWERY BRANCH — The Falcons hired former assistant coach Raheem Morris on Thursday to succeed Arthur Smith, and in doing so made Morris the first full-time Black head coach in franchise history.

Smith was fired after the Falcons’ season finale in January.

“He was offered (the job),” Morris’ agent Brian Levy confirmed in a text to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution after reports of the Morris hire. “He accepted.”

The Falcons confirmed the hire Thursday night.

“I am overjoyed for the opportunity for my family and I to return to Atlanta as the Falcons head coach,” Morris said in a statement posted on the team’s website. “We know from firsthand experience what a first-class organization Atlanta is and what this team means to its city and its fans. I am incredibly appreciative of Arthur Blank for his leadership and for this entire organization for putting its trust in me to help lead this team.”

Morris, 47, is no stranger to the Falcons. He was on coach Dan Quinn’s staff for five-plus seasons and was the interim head coach for 11 games in 2020. He was interviewed for the position when Smith was named the head coach.

When last seen in public, the Falcons’ leadership promised a broad and all-encompassing search to replace Smith, who was fired after his third consecutive 7-10 season with three years remaining on his contract. Several requests for “on the record” updates were denied.

But one thing that Falcons owner Arthur Blank said still resonates as the search came to an end.

“At the end of the day, I understand the final decision will be mine, but mine will be in collaboration with others,” Blank said Jan. 8. “Like I said initially, we’ve kind of begun the process if you will. It doesn’t take long to get going, so we’re moving.

“But I also want to be clear on this is that there is no timetable. The only timetable is to do this correctly, take our time, be thoughtful, do all of the interviews, be respectful, make sure we have a full diverse set of candidates that we’re considering in every way.”

Blank went on about wanting to make sure that candidates get a chance to express their vision for the football team, the franchise and the roster. They want a full accounting of where they are and where the expect to go.

Former New England coach Bill Belichick was the Falcons’ top target at the start of the search, but apparently the parties could not work out an agreement.

The Falcons interviewed 14 candidates for the position.

Morris completed a second interview with the Falcons for their head-coaching vacancy Tuesday. Morris, who received a hearty endorsement from Los Angeles Rams general manager Les Snead on Friday, was interviewed virtually by the Falcons on Saturday.

Morris has been the Rams’ defensive coordinator for the past three seasons and helped them win Super Bowl LVI. He is a two-time Super Bowl winner and former head coach with ties to Falcons CEO Rich McKay that go back to their time in Tampa Bay.

Before starting his end-of-year press conference Friday, Snead, who spent 11 years with the Falcons, took time to proclaim his support for Morris.

“He’s going to give any organization an edge just how collaborative he is,” Snead said to Los Angeles reporters. “It’s going to be an edge that most teams aren’t going to be able to compete with. I know this, he’ll be able to hire an unbelievable staff.

“Every coach who’s any good, who’s qualified, they’re going to want to work for Raheem. And I’m pretty sure there’ll be a lot of tampering charges because just about every player in the NFL’s going to text him and want to come play for him.”

Morris arguably was Quinn’s top assistant as he served in several roles, including assistant head coach/passing game coordinator (2015, 2017-18), assistant head coach/wide receivers (2016), assistant head coach/wide receivers/secondary (2019) and defensive coordinator.

He went 4-7 as the interim coach after Quinn was fired five games into the season.

Morris spent three seasons (2012-14) as defensive backs coach for Washington.

Morris, who played safety at Hofstra, started his career as a defensive intern for the New York Jets in 2001. He spent nine seasons (2002-05, 2007-11) with the Buccaneers, climbing his way up from defensive quality control coach in 2002 to head coach (2009-11).

Morris might have climbed the NFL coaching ranks too fast.

He was named head coach of the Bucs at age 32 in 2009. He won 10 games in 2010 and appeared to be on his way. After the Bucs were 4-12 in 2011, he was fired.

Morris has worked with Mike Shanahan, Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay, Matt LaFleur and Quinn.

He’s exchanged information with former Washington and Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy.

Morris also credited his time with Raiders coach Jon Gruden, former Washington coach Jay Gruden and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin as main influences.

After six consecutive losing seasons, the Falcons are pretty much irrelevant on the NFL landscape. They had no nationally televised games last season.

Hiring the right coach was clearly very important to Blank, who had Belichick as his No. 1 target going into the process, a source with knowledge told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Morris was second.

Belichick was the first person to receive an in-person interview and the first person to receive a second interview, while others bowed out – Jim Harbaugh went to the Chargers and Brian Callahan took the Titans job.

Blank arrived at his decision with the input from McKay, president Greg Beadles and general manager Terry Fontenot. Blank hired six previous coaches: Jim Mora in 2004, Bobby Petrino in 2007, Mike Smith in 2008, Dan Quinn in 2015 and Arthur Smith in 2021.

After buying the team and inheriting coach Dan Reeves, Blank eventually wanted his own coach. The Falcons canceled an interview with Nick Saban and picked San Francisco defensive coordinator Jim Mora after they arrived “at a consensus” according to media reports. Mora received a five-year, $7.5 million contract from the Falcons.

Assistant head coach/secondary Emmitt Thomas served as interim head coach for the final three games of the 2007 season.

Credit: Curtis Compton

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Credit: Curtis Compton

In addition to Mora, the Falcons interviewed five candidates: defensive coordinators Lovie Smith (St. Louis), Romeo Crennel (New England) and Tim Lewis (Pittsburgh); interim head coach Wade Phillips and Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey.

Saban was at LSU at the time. He’d dabble in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins (2005-06, 15-17 record) before returning to the college ranks and resurrecting Alabama as dominate college football powerhouse.

Lovie Smith landed with the Bears and was coach of the year in 2005, and took the 2006 Bears to Super Bowl XLI with Rex Grossman as the starting quarterback. Mora took the Falcons to the NFC title game after the 2004 season, but a string of bumbling mistakes, bad people skills and horrible a radio interview cost him his job after the 2006 season.

In 2007, looking to maximize the immense talents of quarterback Michael Vick, the Falcons lured Bobby Petrino away from Louisville with a five-year, $24 million contract. Unlike this long search, the Falcons swooped in quick and hired Petrino a week after Mora was fired.

Things were going along well over the offseason as the team was holding illegal workouts in the indoor barn.

Vick was picking up the offense quickly. Roddy White and others would later confirm how well the installation was working out. However, Vick was arrested on federal dogfighting charges and was incarcerated. Petrino left after 13 games and took the head coaching job at Arkansas.

The Falcons interviewed four other NFL assistants, but valued Petrino’s college head coaching experience.

After Petrino, the Falcons hired Thomas Dimitroff as general manager and Mike Smith as the head coach in a forced collaboration. Smith received a four-year, $8 to $10 million deal and would go on to become the winningest coach in franchise history.

Mike Smith became the first coach in franchise history to post back-to-back winning seasons and took them to a NFC title game, coming up 6 yards short of reaching the Super Bowl in a 28-24 loss to Jim Harbaugh, Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers on Jan. 20, 2013. In a precursor to Super Bowl LI, the Falcons blew a 17-0 lead.

Despite trips to the playoffs in four of his first five seasons, Smith was fired after two consecutive losing seasons.

In 2015, Quinn was hired and signed a five-year contract. In 2018, he received a three-year, $13.5 million extension.

Quinn, with Kyle Shanahan as his offensive coordinator, took the Falcons to Super Bowl LI. They famously got out to a 28-3 lead before collapsing. The Falcons lost 34-28 to Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots.

Quinn made it back to the playoffs in 2017, but lost in the divisional round to backup quarterback Nick Foles and the Eagles. After back-to-back 7-9 seasons, Quinn and Dimitroff were fired after starting the 2020 season 0-5. Morris closed the season as the interim coach.

Fontenot was hired as the general manager and Smith was the head coach in another forced collaboration. Fontenot and Smith had never met. Smith received a six-year contract, reportedly worth $45 million.

Not 24 hours after the 2023 regular-season finale against the Saints, Smith was fired.

Blank has been on the league’s diversity, equity and inclusion committee since the start in 2003. In all of the coaching searches the Falcons have complied with or gone beyond the minimum requirements of the Rooney Rule, but the franchise has never hired a Black or minority full-time head coach until Morris.

Emmitt Thomas served as the interim coach after Petrino resigned. Morris, who had two Super Bowl rings as an assistant coach, was interviewed for the head coach position after Quinn was fired and he received two interviews during the current search.

Mora was selected over Black candidates Lovie Smith, Tim Lewis and Romeo Crennel.

When the Falcons hired Petrino, they passed on Jim Caldwell, who is Black.

When Mike Smith was hired, he beat out Leslie Frazier, who is Black and played at Alcorn State.

When Quinn was hired, Black coaches Keith Armstrong and Todd Bowles were interviewed.

When Arthur Smith was hired, they also interviewed minority candidates Morris, Eric Bieniemy, Robert Saleh and Todd Bowles. Saleh landed the Jets job and Bowles, who started his coaching career at Morehouse, currently is the coach at Tampa Bay and has guided them to back-to-back NFC South titles.

Under an enhanced Rooney Rule, the Falcons had two in-person interviews. Morris and Carolina defensive coordinator Eijro Evero received those two interviews. They also interviewed Steve Wilks, Anthony Weaver and Aaron Glenn virtually.

Atlanta Falcons interim head coach Raheem Morris works during the first half  against the New Orleans Saints, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The Saints won 21-16. (Danny Karnik/AP)

Credit: AP

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Credit: AP

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