Bradley’s Buzz: Raheem Morris might be the man to fix the Falcons

Former Falcons defensive coordinator and interim coach Raheem Morris has returned to the franchise as head coach.

Credit: AJC file photo/Curtis Compton

Credit: AJC file photo/Curtis Compton

Former Falcons defensive coordinator and interim coach Raheem Morris has returned to the franchise as head coach.

Having worked in Flowery Branch gives Raheem Morris a fighting chance. If that sounds like faint praise, it shouldn’t. He arrived as a Dan Quinn hire in 2015. He outlasted Quinn. Not everyone on the outside grasps that the Falcons are different from other organizations. Morris can cite chapter and verse as to how different they are.

He was hired by Quinn as a defensive assistant in the passing game. That lasted one season. The career defensive specialist – Morris was a DB at Hofstra – was moved to offense. He coached wide receivers for the 2016 Falcons, one of the greatest offenses in NFL annals.

Kyle Shanahan, the offensive coordinator, and Matt Ryan, the MVP, had something to do with that. So did quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur and offensive assistant Mike McDaniel. So did Morris, who worked with Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel. (Don’t remember Taylor Gabriel? He wasn’t drafted. He was waived by Cleveland. He averaged 16.5 yards per catch here in 2016, scoring six touchdowns.)

Shanahan coaches the 49ers, again bound for the Super Bowl. LaFleur coaches the Packers, who reached the NFC semifinals. McDaniel coaches the Dolphins, who made the playoffs. Morris makes four HCs off one stellar offensive staff.

Shanahan took the San Francisco job after the Super Bowl. McDaniel went with him. LaFleur joined Sean McVay in L.A. Morris stuck around Hall County. Halfway through a 2019 season that saw the Falcons start 1-7, he was re-assigned to defensive duties. Two months later, he was named defensive coordinator, replacing Quinn, who’d been his own DC in 2019.

Quinn lasted five more games as head coach, all losses. Morris became interim HC. The Falcons won four of his first six games. Had they won two more, he might have been retained as HC. They didn’t, and he wasn’t.

Three years later, after a stint as DC with the kingmaker McVay, Morris is back as HC. Over the Quinn Era, he was the guy who could do any job. Over six seasons here, he held five titles. This makes six – head coach without the words “assistant” or “interim” attached.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Falcons need Morris to hit big. Over Arthur Blank’s first 11 seasons as owner, the Falcons had seven winning seasons and made the playoffs six times. Over the past 11 seasons, they’ve finished above .500 twice. Working in the NFL’s weakest division, they haven’t won the NFC South since 2016.

Morris marks their third head coach since 2020 – their fourth if you log, Grover Cleveland style, his 11 interim games as a separate entry. He knows Blank as well as any coach ever has. Morris and Rich McKay met when both worked for Tampa Bay, which for Morris was just after college. Nothing about the Falcons will surprise this HC, which couldn’t be said of any other HC under Blank.

The past few weeks have seen so much stuff, for want of a better word, that the idea behind all the motion/commotion – Belichick! Harbaugh! Interviews by the dozen! – got pushed to the periphery. The idea was to hire a hire a coach who could make the Falcons win again.

Morris’ record as head coach, interim stint included, is 21-38. That could have been reason not to hire him. But he has been an NFL head coach, which none of Blank’s first five hires were, and he can hit the ground running because he spent six years traversing this ground. He knows where Spout Springs Rd. begins and where Phil Niekro Blvd. ends.

This mightn’t be the hire you expected, but this hire could work. Something had better. Blank’s time as owner began well – the Smiths weren’t the toughest act to follow – but little has gone right since they led 28-3. In Hobby Airport the day after that infamous night, traveling Atlantans asked one another, “How long before they get over this?” Seven years later, they’re not over it.

Raheem Morris was working for the Falcons that star-crossed night in Houston. He knows how close they came. He knows how much it hurt. He’s a reasonable choice to lead this team up from what has become oblivion. He was the guy to whom the Falcons turned when something needed fixing. They’ve never needed fixing more than now.

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