Raheem Morris comes to Falcons with losing record but new approach

Team’s decision-makers convinced he learned from failures in Tampa Bay
Atlanta Falcons new head football coach Raheem Morris smiles as he speaks to members of the media during his introductory press conference at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Monday, February 5, 2024, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Atlanta Falcons new head football coach Raheem Morris smiles as he speaks to members of the media during his introductory press conference at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Monday, February 5, 2024, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Falcons owner Arthur Blank finally hires a head coach who’s done it before in the NFL and he picks a guy with a losing record. The circumstances were different for Raheem Morris when he led the Buccaneers and did an interim stint with the Falcons. But there’s a reason why only head coaches and quarterbacks are assigned wins and losses, and the bottom line is Morris is 21-38.

Morris produced one winning season in three with the Buccaneers from 2009-11. He was 4-7 as interim coach for the Falcons in 2020. That was better than Dan Quinn’s 0-5 mark with the same team. But it wasn’t good, especially since those Falcons lost their last five games of the season.

So, with those poor past results as the background, Morris was asked on Monday if his view on what it takes to be a successful head coach has changed since his days in Tampa Bay.

“It’s 100% (different),” Morris said during his introductory news conference. “When you are 32-years old, you’ve got all the answers. ‘Just ask me and I’ll tell you.’ Right? And what you find out is it’s a learning process every single day. And you better be able to lean on people and talk to people and find out what is the best thing that works.

“I told (Falcons officials) during my interview process, ‘Hey, I don’t need to be the smartest person in the room.’ I want to hire, I want to add, I want to contribute, I want to collaborate with all the smart people you’ve assembled.”

Morris was smart enough to hit on Blank’s favored talking points when he was being considered for the job. Now we’ll see if Morris backs up his words with actions and, if so, whether his refreshed perspective as a head coach leads to good results. He’s only gotten them in one of four seasons as a head coach.

Morris’ Bucs were 10-6 in 2010, Year 2 of the team’s rebuild. The Bucs fired Morris after the team finished 4-12 the next season with the youngest roster in the league. It took Morris nine years to climb to a defensive coordinator position with Quinn’s Falcons. After Blank passed him over to become head coach, Morris ran the Rams defense for the past three seasons and won the 2022 Super Bowl.

Not many candidates with Morris’ record get a second chance to become a head coach and show what they’ve learned. It’s unheard of with Black coaches. They rarely get a first chance even though the data shows they outperform their white counterparts when they do.

Morris has an opportunity to prove that he’s a better head coach now than he was in Tampa Bay.

“I’m fully prepared,” Morris said. “I’ve been prepared for this since the last day when I was in Tampa. You spend the rest of your time and the rest of your coaching career figuring out when you are going to be ready for that moment. And this is the moment, and now it’s time to go, man.”

Morris had better be ready. All NFL head coaching jobs are difficult. Taking over a new team is especially challenging because it’s almost always the case that the previous coach didn’t meet expectations. For the Falcons, that was Arthur Smith’s three consecutive 7-10 seasons.

The losing goes back way further for this franchise. Morris essentially has been hired to save the Falcons from an era of ineptitude we haven’t seen since Blank bought the franchise from the Smith family before the 2002 season.

The Falcons have posted six consecutive losing seasons and nine in the past 11. Only the Jets (11 years) and Broncos (eight) have longer active playoff droughts. Those teams now have veteran quarterbacks who’ve won Super Bowls, Aaron Rodgers (Jets) and Russell Wilson (Broncos). Morris has two quarterbacks who aren’t even average starters, Desmond Ridder and Taylor Heinicke.

Morris didn’t have anything specific to say about quarterback or any other positions. He mentioned in passing that wide receiver Drake London and Bijan Robinson are two current Falcons he likes. Fontenot said the team’s player personnel department is just beginning February meetings. Scouts soon will get together with Morris and his coaching staff to figure out the roster needs and the “specific profiles” that Morris wants at each position.

“This man has acquired some really good pieces and tools,” Morris said, referring to Fontenot. “The things you got to change is just the obvious holes that we’ll talk about. Every team every year is going to have some differences. Every team every year is going to have some changes.”

Atlanta Falcons new head football coach Raheem Morris poses with an Atlanta Falcons helmet next to General Manager Terry Fontenot at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Monday, February 5, 2024, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

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Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Morris is the biggest change for the Falcons. He’s the sixth head coach hired by Blank, who wasn’t at the news conference because of illness per spokesman Brett Jewkes. The others, in descending order of success: Quinn, Mike Smith, Jim L. Mora, Arthur Smith and Bobby Petrino. Quinn, Mora and Mike Smith had been NFL defensive coordinators. Arthur Smith and Bobby Petrino were ex-NFL offensive coordinators, with Petrino also previously serving as head coach at Louisville.

Morris is one of four Falcons candidates with previous NFL head coaching experience. One of those coaches, Bill Belichick, might be the best to ever do it. Another, Jim Harbaugh, had a 44-19 record with the 49ers. The Falcons ended up hiring the guy with a .356 winning percentage and no playoff victories.

Falcons president Greg Beadles said Morris convinced the team’s decision-makers that he’s grown as a coach.

“I think that was something that made an impression on us was the hard times that he has gone through in the past . . . he turned it into a learning (experience),” Beadles said. “There’s a lot of people in this industry, if it didn’t work out somewhere, they’re bitter about that and they can’t let go of it. I definitely saw that in Raheem, he wanted to learn from it.”

Morris will get a chance to show what he’s learned. I think he’s got a good chance of success as Falcons coach. Just because he lost in Tampa Bay doesn’t mean he won’t win here.

But until that happens the Falcons, a losing organization, will be led by a coach with a losing record.

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