Did Raheem Morris and Terry Fontenot just become best friends?

Raheem Morris and general manager Terry Fontenot share a laugh while responding to a question during Monday's introductory press conference.

Credit: Jason Getz/Jason.getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz/Jason.getz@ajc.com

Raheem Morris and general manager Terry Fontenot share a laugh while responding to a question during Monday's introductory press conference.

Raheem Morris spoke excitedly and Terry Fontenot nodded in agreement. Fontenot raved about his new coach’s credentials and qualities. And they used the word “collaborate” a lot.

Morris’ introductory news conference as the Falcons’ new coach lasted an hour Monday afternoon at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Many words were spoken that should excite Falcons fans — Morris seems qualified, likeable and energetic — but that was largely the gist of it.

Morris and Fontenot are going into this new chapter in Falcons history with the intent of working closely with each other — collaborating, if you prefer their word of choice — and apparently are happy quite to do so.

If the news conference was any indication, don’t be surprised if Morris and Fontenot get matching tattoos and are spotted on the Beltline riding a tandem bicycle.

“It was very clear that there was one person that stuck out (in the search), and that’s Raheem Morris,” Fontenot said. “It was his infectious energy, his natural leadership, his charisma, his football instincts and intelligence, but also his collaborative mindset.”

Fontenot didn’t know Morris prior to the search, but quickly in the interview process, “I felt like we’ve known each other forever.”

Fontenot said that he used to watch video of Morris’ news conferences when Morris was the coach of the Buccaneers (Fontenot was then a scout with the Saints) and even quoted back a saying of his back to Morris during the search – “There’s a mentality before there’s ever a reality.”

When Morris brought it up Monday, Fontenot jumped in and helpfully completed the adage for him.

“And when (Fontenot) said it (in the interview), I was like, ‘Man, I did say that?’” Morris said. “That was a cool statement.”

A sharing of authority over personnel, draft and the roster is the management model of choice in the NFL for coach and general manager. Fontenot had a similar arrangement with former coach Arthur Smith. Morris and Fontenot made it abundantly clear that that’s how they’ll attack it as they lead the charge to secure the first Super Bowl title in franchise history.

Morris spoke of returning to the Falcons and “being part of the collaboration, the shared vision, all the things you want to do with Terry and what he’s starting to build.”

The emphasis on Morris’ ability to work well with others (he recalled from his previous six years on the Falcons coaching staff that “a big part of what we do here is listen”) and his excitement to partner with Fontenot gave a sense of where the candidacy of Bill Belichick perhaps sputtered. It’s hard to imagine Belichick at the dais bubbling about how eager he was to lean on Fontenot and name-dropping all of the Falcons employees he had gotten to know, as Morris did Monday.

It was a reflection of owner Arthur Blank’s own manner. Belichick is obviously proven, but a Blank-Belichick partnership would have been as smooth as a teenager learning to drive a stick shift.

The Falcons continue to insist that Belichick was never the leading candidate and that the search was an open process. That may well be so, but the thought of Belichick becoming the Falcons’ new coach likely didn’t cause Fontenot to wake up with a song in his heart, and that the coach whom Blank hired is the positive and energetic Morris is only an added bonus. Fontenot said that he and Morris communicate over FaceTime, which has allowed him to get to know Morris’ family. He said that he and his family are in a debate over whether to call the new coach “Rah” or “Heem.”

In an alternative universe, Fontenot’s family would probably be deciding whether it would be O.K. to call Belichick, ever.

And, not only is his head-coach partner a friend to all, but Fontenot also been elevated on the organizational chart to the rung just below Blank. Previously, he and Smith had reported to Rich McKay, who is now out of the picture on football matters, a decision announced in the news release heralding Morris’ hire.

At the news conference Monday, Fontenot, Morris and team president Greg Beadles shared the dais. Beadles was subbing for Blank, who was at home with an illness. McKay sat off to the side in an alcove along with Morris’ family and others in his party. He slipped out just before the news conference ended, though surely not to avoid questions from media.

Morris, too, has reason to be ecstatic about the opportunity to be a head coach again after a failed three-year run with the Buccaneers. Of course, it seems Morris is the type to be ecstatic about a bowl of oatmeal.

Morris veered away from many specifics, but he offered an insight into his mindset of how he wanted to work — collaborate, even — with Fontenot. After six years with the Falcons (2015-20) in a variety of coaching roles, lastly interim head coach following the midseason dismissal of Dan Quinn, Morris joined the staff of Rams coach Sean McVay, the Marist School alumnus. Morris and McVay had worked together previously in Washington and Tampa Bay.

Morris said it wasn’t long before he told McVay that he was jealous of the relationship that he observed McVay enjoying with Rams GM Les Snead.

“I said, ‘To watch you guys collaborate and move in silence, be able to talk about everything, have your communication ongoing, have your communication consistent, honest, open, all of those things that you guys do with each other — that is the next step,’” Morris said as Fontenot nodded along.

And that, clearly, is the step that he wants to take with Fontenot.

Fontenot has offered reason to believe in his ability in the roster that he put together with Smith over the past three seasons, both in the draft and in free agency. Morris comes back to the Falcons with time spent in one of the NFL’s most successful organizations and a litany of players, coaches and execs, to say nothing of Falcons brass, touting his readiness.

Their budding friendship certainly could well be a significant positive for the Falcons. Teams can win even if the general manager and coach don’t see eye to eye or get along, but it’s much easier when they’re eager to share credit, disagree respectfully and share a vision and plan for success.

Collaborate, if you will.


Find more coverage of the Falcons and new coach Raheem Morris, including Michael Cunningham’s column about what Morris has learned since his last stint as an NFL head coach.