In his latest role, Raheem Morris has made a difference

Falcons interim head coach Raheem Morris (left) confers with then-coach Dan Quinn during a November game against Tampa Bay last season. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)
Falcons interim head coach Raheem Morris (left) confers with then-coach Dan Quinn during a November game against Tampa Bay last season. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

Here are the jobs Raheem Morris had filled over five-plus seasons with the Falcons – assistant head coach; secondary coach; receivers coach; secondary coach again and defensive coordinator. His latest assignment might be the role that suits him best. He’s the interim head coach, and the “interim” could be subject to change.

Full disclosure: I’m leery of interim anythings. If the guy above you was so bad he got fired, the act you’re following isn’t exactly Freddie Mercury at Live Aid. Almost anything you do will look better, at least by comparison. That said …

Brian Snitker got to manage the Braves only because Fredi Gonzalez was fired. Snitker has since won three division titles, two playoff series and one manager of the year award. Dabo Swinney, an unassuming position coach, was kicked way upstairs when Tommy Bowden was given the gate in 2008. Today Clemson pays Swinney $9.8 million per year to keep coaching the Tigers.

So: Sometimes interims work out. We can’t say for sure that Morris is the man to lead the Falcons to brighter tomorrows – he’s 3-1, with none of those four games coming against a team that’s above .500 and the loss to Detroit being DQ-like in its zaniness – but this much is apparent: The Falcons again look like a football team, as opposed to a rambling wreck.

We’ve spent thousands of words on the DQ Era, and there’s not much left to say. Except this: The only way a team as gifted as these Falcons could have started 0-5 was to have been utterly misguided. You can make a case that the next four games were soft enough that even Quinn could have won a couple, but his final act was to lose at home to rebuilding Carolina. Seventeen days later, the Morris-led Falcons went to Charlotte and beat those same Panthers.

There is about Morris a professional pragmatism that wasn’t always evident in the happy talk of his predecessor. Surprising factoid about Morris, who has been around – he was Tampa Bay’s head coach for three seasons after Jon Gruden – for what seems forever: He’s only 44. He’s a football lifer who hasn’t just done the same job for 20 years. He has done a bit of everything. He won’t ignore the offense for the sake of the defense, or vice versa. He has a holistic view of football. That’s not a bad thing.

There’s an edge to Morris that, after the dulling effect of five years and five games of Quinn’s bromides, the Falcons needed. Sometimes it doesn’t matter so much what the new voice says; what counts is that the voice is different from the one you’d tuned out. The Falcons haven’t switched to the Wishbone post-Quinn; they still do pretty much the same stuff. (They do seem to blitz more.) They just do it with more oomph. The shroud of fatalism draped over this franchise has begun to lift. They held leads against Carolina and Denver, if not Detroit. That’s progress.

The schedule ramps upward from here on – two games against New Orleans; two against Tampa Bay; one each against the not-bad Raiders, the reigning champion Chiefs and the unlucky-but-scary Chargers. If the Falcons could win three or four of those, it won’t put them in the playoffs. (The reshaped postseason allows for a third wild card per conference, but six NFC teams have won at least six games.) It would, however, make a solid argument for Morris’ continuing employment.

Students of Falcons history recall that, after firing Dan Henning in December 1986, the Smith family dazzled its constituency by flirting with Dick Vermeil and Bill Parcells and Terry Donahue before announcing that the new head coach would be … Marion Campbell! Who’d been Henning’s defensive coordinator! Who’d already had one failed stint as Falcons’ head coach! (Take 2 of the Swamp Fox saw him resign with a month left in Year 3.) If you want to argue that this organization, having shed Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff, needs to start afresh, you wouldn’t be laughed out of court.

One thing that hasn’t changed: Arthur Blank still owns the team. His affection for Quinn was the reason DQ wasn’t fired after starting 1-7 last year, or after the unfielded onside kick, or after the Chicago collapse the next week. If Morris can take an 0-5 team and bleed six/seven wins from it, Blank will feel a massive debt of gratitude. Would that be enough to rip the “interim” from Morris’ latest title? It might.

Asked Friday if he has a number in mind that would win him the job on a permanent basis, Morris said: “There’s no doubt there’s a number, and it’s 1-0, and it’s this weekend. That’s the mentality, and that mentality won’t change. … I’m in the moment, and I am the head coach. If they don’t retain me, they’ll just tell me to leave. When that happens as a coach, you do what you do – you leave. But we’re going to go 1-0, take that mentality and do what we need to do.”

The Falcons will face their ancient enemy in the Superdome on Sunday. Drew Brees won’t play. Not long ago, the Falcons were incapable of winning any game anywhere against any opponent. That it would be no shock if they won in New Orleans is a reflection of the difference Raheem Morris has made.

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