ATLANTA - The Atlanta Falcons have made it official: Raheem Morris is the team's new head coach.
Morris, along with Falcons general manager, Terry Fontenot, will now report directly to owner Arthur Blank.
Atlanta Falcons name 19th head coach
In a release late Thursday evening, Morris was named as the franchise's 19th head coach. He takes over the club after spending three seasons, from 2021 to 2023, with the Los Angeles Rams.
It was there he made two postseason appearances and captured a title in Super Bowl LVI.
"His time in LA has given him an enhanced perspective on everything from personnel, team operations, game planning, working with an outstanding offensive staff and many other things that has helped him develop into an even more prepared coach in all aspects of the game," Blank was quoted as saying. "I believe his leadership skills have grown and his understanding of what it takes to have a highly collaborative one-team culture are now at a much higher level."
Morris brings more than two decades of coaching experience to the Dirty Birds.
"With 26 years of experience in the NFL, including the last three in an outstanding organization that has won our league’s championship in that time, Raheem emerged from a field of excellent candidates and is the right leader to take our team into the future," Blank said.
"We have conducted one of the most thorough and comprehensive searches and saw many incredible candidates through this process. Raheem is the right fit for our team, culture, and shared vision for success in Atlanta, and I cannot wait to start working with him and have his energy in our building," said Fontenot.
What is Raheem Morris' record with the LA Rams ?
Blank and Falcons leadership were impressed with what Morris has done in the last three seasons with the Rams after being passed over for the head coach position following the 2020 season in favor of Arthur Smith.
LA’s defense was the fourth-best in red zone efficiency and the seventh-fewest rushing yards per game in the NFL.
They point to his 2023 unit, which was one of the youngest in the NFL, but was able to get the Rams a playoff berth. That unit featured third-round rookie defensive linemen Kobie Turner, a finalist for the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
BALTIMORE, MD - JANUARY 02: Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris stands on the sideline during an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on January 2, 2022 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Perry Knotts
Turner and Byron Young had a cumulative 17 sacks, finishing first and second among all rookies. Turner’s nine sacks matched three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald’s franchise rookie record of nine in 2014. Meanwhile, Young’s eight sacks ranked third among rookies in franchise history.
The Rams defense in 2022, under Morris’ leadership, saw red zone efficiency of 44.4 percent, ranked second in goal-to-go efficiency at 53.3 percent, seventh in interceptions with 16, and ninth in defensive total rush EPA at 42.97.
The year prior, they took home the Super Bowl title with a defense that averaged 1.5 takeaways per game and featured three players – Donald, Leonard Floyd and Von Miller – ranked in the top 20 in sacks. During the regular season, Morris’ unit ranked third in sacks (50) and fifth in tackles for loss (85).
Falcons leadership believes his coaching leadership is what is needed for the team to succeed.
"I’m beyond excited to work side-by-side with Raheem in bringing a championship to Atlanta," said Fontenot.
Rams general manager Les Snead raved about Morris’ impact on a team that returned to the playoffs this season after missing out in 2022. The GM noted his experience coaching both offense and defense.
"There’s not many coaches in the planet who has been in both of those rooms," Snead said. "He’s going to give any organization an edge in just how collaborative he is. It’s going to be an edge most teams won’t be able to compete with."
Raheem Morris accepts head coach post in Atlanta
The Dirty Birds have reached an agreement with Raheem Morris to replace Arthur Smith as head coach. Morris' agency, Goal Line Football, made the announcement early Thursday evening.
"Beyond proud and excited that our long time GL family member Raheem Morris has been named Head Coach of the Atlanta Falcons. Raheem becomes the first black Head Coach in franchise history," Goal Line Football posted on Instagram.
Morris later expressed his excitement at returning to the Falcons, where he was named interim head coach in 2020 after Dan Quinn was fired. The team finished 4-7 under his leadership.
"I am overjoyed for the opportunity for my family and I to return to Atlanta as the Falcons head coach," said Morris. "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 did not immediately offer insight into what changes would be made to the franchise or what his plans are once he officially takes the reins, but did meet the moment with acknowledgment to the Falcons fandom.
"We know from firsthand experience what a first-class organization Atlanta is and what this team means to its city and its fans," he said.
While forward-looking, Morris expressed his thanks for the opportunity the Rams gave him for the past three seasons.
I can’t thank the Rams organization enough for the experience and opportunity with the team. From the Kroenke family, Kevin Demoff, Les Snead, Sean McVay and the entire staff, the Rams are a first-class organization all around. We loved our time in LA, loved the fans and know the Rams continue to have a very bright future," Morris said.
During his previous stint with the team, Morris helped to lead the Dirty Birds to Super Bowl LI, where they faced the New England Patriots in 2017 as an assistant coach and secondary coach.
Atlanta Falcons pass on Bill Belichick
Super Bowl LI is still a sore spot with many of the Dirty Bird faithful, so it might be a relief that the Falcons passed on the man across the field during that fateful game in the last 25 years.
Six-time Super Bowl winner Bill Belichick was one of the 14 candidates for Atlanta’s top coaching post. Both Belichick and Morris were called back for second interviews. Earlier Thursday, the team conducted a second interview with Houston Texans offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik. In the end, the Falcons decided to go with an experienced coach who has been in the league all but one season going back to 2002, including a stint in Atlanta from 2015-2020.
The hiring of Morris came as something of a surprise, given the team’s clear interest in a coach of Belichick’s stature and its interviews with several youthful assistants, including Slowik, who were considered rising stars.
It will be especially interesting to see how the new coach is viewed by a fan base that had grown increasingly apathetic in the midst of six straight losing seasons and the Falcons’ failure to produce a Super Bowl title over their 58-year history.
The Falcons seemed to be closing in on Belichick as their next coach after he flew into Atlanta on one of Blank’s private jets for a second interview last Friday.
But it wasn’t clear how he might mesh with Fontenot, who the Falcons decided to keep as GM after dumping Smith.
Blank insisted right from the start that Fontenot would retain in charge of personnel matters. That would have been a big change for Belichick, who had total control over all football-related matters during his tenure in New England.
But, while speculation about Belichick swirled, the Falcons made it clear they were considering a large group of candidates that also included former Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, who wound up taking an offer from the Los Angeles Chargers, and ex-Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel.
Morris is just the second coach in Atlanta history to get two stints as the team’s head coach. Marion Campbell held the job from 1974-76 and returned to the post from 1987-89, failing to produce a winning season in either tenure.
Raheem Morris's initial stint with the Falcons
Raheem Morris was with the Atlanta Falcons from 2015 to 2020 and his influence was evident across the team.
Under Morris's guidance, the Falcons' defense shined in 2020, tying for sixth in red zone defense and ranking sixth in rush defense. His ability to adapt was on full display in 2019, as he transitioned mid-season from focusing on the receiving corps to revamping the secondary. This shift sparked a remarkable turnaround, with the team improving its takeaway and sack numbers dramatically in the latter half of the season.
Morris's offensive prowess was equally notable. In 2018, the Falcons boasted the league's fourth-best passing average, a testament to his coaching. He played a pivotal role in the development of standout players like Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones, with Ridley leading rookies in receiving stats and Jones continuing his streak of exceptional performances.
The 2017 season saw Morris's receivers, including Mohamed Sanu and Jones, amass impressive statistics, with Sanu reaching new career highs. His first year as wide receivers coach in 2016 marked a significant contribution to the team's offensive success, especially in nurturing the talents of Jones and other key receivers.
Morris's initial role with the Falcons as assistant head coach/defensive passing game coordinator in 2015 witnessed a formidable defense that limited passing touchdowns and excelled in interceptions. Before joining the Falcons, Morris imparted his defensive expertise to the Washington Commanders' secondary, playing a crucial role in their impressive defensive statistics in 2012.
Morris's earlier tenure as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2009 to 2011, where he was the league's youngest head coach, is notable for the team's historic turnaround in 2010. His earlier stints with the Buccaneers, including as defensive backs coach, were marked by exceptional defensive performances, contributing to the team's top rankings in pass defense and interceptions.
His coaching career, which began at Hofstra University and included a year at Kansas State and a brief stint with the New York Jets, laid the foundation for his NFL success. In his decade with the Buccaneers, Morris helped the team lead in total and pass defense multiple times, including their 2002 Super Bowl victory.
Raheem Morris's career, characterized by adaptability, strategic brilliance, and a knack for developing talent, underscores his significant role in shaping some of the most dynamic and effective units in the NFL. As he continues his journey in Los Angeles, his past achievements herald a promising future for his teams.
Raheem Morris becomes first Black non-interim head coach of Falcons
Morris becomes the first non-interim Black coach in Falcons history and joins general manager Terry Fontenot, who also is Black, in leading a franchise that hasn’t had a winning season since 2017.
The hiring ensures there will be at least nine minority head coaches to start the 2024 season, the most ever.
Morris is the fourth minority hire during this coaching cycle, joining Dave Canales in Carolina, Jerod Mayo in New England and Antonio Pierce in Las Vegas. The league’s minority coaches also include Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin, Houston’s DeMeco Ryans, Tampa Bay’s Todd Bowles, Miami’s Mike McDaniel and the New York Jets’ Robert Saleh.
There are two openings left to be filled, in Seattle and Washington.
"This is a major milestone for the National Football League," said Richard Lapchick, founder of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics In Sport (TIDES).
Emmitt Thomas finished the 2007 season as the Falcons' interim head coach after Bobby Petrino resigned after 13 games to coach for Arkansas.
Falcons make changes to leadership structure
Blank also said he’s changed the leadership structure of the Falcons to become more involved with the football operations. Fontenot and Morris will each report directly to the owner instead of CEO Rich McKay, as was the case with Fontenot and Smith. McKay, a former Falcons GM, will now be limited to representing the team in league matters.
The change will allow McKay to focus on AMB Sports and Entertainment, which oversees the Falcons, Atlanta United, and all operations at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Direct oversight of Atlanta United will also be added with its CEO, Garth Lagerwey, reporting directly to him.
"It is hard to quantify the positive things Rich has done to impact our organization over the last 21 years, laying a strong foundation for our football team and getting Mercedes-Benz Stadium built and functioning as one of the best in the world, chief among them," said Blank.
Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Downtown Atlanta (FOX 5)
McKay will also be joining the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation board as an associate director.
"While he’ll no longer be involved in day-to-day football operations, Rich’s role will broaden in our organization, and I’ll continue to trust him with some of the most important work we’re engaged in across the Blank Family of Businesses," Blank added.
AMBSE President Tim Zulawski and Falcons President Greg Beadles will continue to report to him.
The Associated Press contributed to this article