Raheem Morris doesn't have the best reputation among Falcons fans. After all, everyone remembers Morris' final season as the head coach in Tampa Bay, when the team finished 4-12 and was constantly embroiled in drama. Should fans be concerned about the Falcons' new passing game coordinator and assistant head coach?
Morris played safety in college at Hofstra University and began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Hofstra in 1998. He was hired by the Buccaneers as a defensive assistant in 2002 and rose through the ranks in Tampa Bay rapidly. He left Tampa briefly in 2006 to serve as the defensive coordinator at Kansas State University, but returned to the Bucs in 2007 as the defensive backs coach. Morris was named head coach in 2009, and the Bucs struggled that first season, winning just three games. The following season, however, the Buccaneers rallied under their young head coach, finishing the season 10-6. 2011 was a different story. The team finished 4-12 and Morris was fired at the conclusion of a disappointing season.
Morris was hired by Washington in 2012 as their defensive backs coach and spent three seasons there before being hired by the Falcons this offseason.
What's more important than Morris' win/loss record as a head coach is how Morris functioned as an assistant. In his first season in Tampa Bay, Morris helped the Bucs' defense prepare themselves to allow the fewest offensive yards per game, the fewest points per game and the fewest passing yards per game in the entire league. In 2003, when Morris was a defensive assistant, the Bucs remained in the top five in the league in all of those categories.
During the 2004 season, the Bucs finished in the top five in the league for passing yards allowed. In 2005, Tampa Bay was sixth in the league in passing yards allowed per game, and they were tied for second for passing touchdowns allowed.
When Morris left Tampa Bay to serve as the defensive coordinator at Kansas State in 2006, the Buccaneers' pass defense suffered. Upon his return in 2007, Morris helped a Bucs' pass defense that finished the previous season ranked 19th for passing yards allowed per game return to the top of the league in that category. The 2008 Bucs were fourth in the league for passing yards allowed per game.
The biggest knock on Morris' Bucs during his tenure as head coach was a lack of discipline. That's not something that will fall exclusively to Morris in Atlanta so it's less of a concern.
After being fired by Tampa Bay following the 2011 season, Morris took over as the defensive backs coach in Washington. Morris wasn't able to get his unit to duplicate his successes in Tampa Bay. I reached out to Ken Meringolo of Hogs Haven for his insight on Morris as a coordinator based on his experience in Washington.
I asked Meringolo about the way Morris relates to players, and he described Morris as a "players' coach." That quality, of course, was something that Arthur Blank and co. were looking for in a head coach, so it makes sense that they would find that quality appealing in assistants as well. "He can also be a bit of a lightning rod as there are also players who aren't "his guys" which at least creates the potential for locker room problems," Meringolo said. "I know the Redskins had those issues in his tenure here."
I asked about in-game adjustments, and Meringolo didn't have much praise for Morris in that regard, either. "Given the terrible performance of our secondary over the last few years, I am hard-pressed to heap too much praise on his coaching prowess," Meringolo said. "On one hand, it did not appear that our defensive backs made strategic in-game adjustments, but you never know how much of that to chalk up to the DC or head coach."
Morris' greatest strength and greatest weakness are two sides of the same coin, per Meringolo. "His greatest strength could be his love of the game and the way that he does connect to his players. After all, he became a very young head coach for that reason, among others," Meringolo said. "A big weakness that stems from that is the way his act seems to grow stale. We saw how his team in Tampa Bay pretty much quit on him, and we saw a lot of uninspired play in Washington's defensive backfield this past season."
Meringolo also pointed out, and rightly, that Morris is still young and that this opportunity with the Falcons could be the one where Morris really blossoms. It's also worth noting that Morris was acknowledged as a candidate for Washington's defensive coordinator position, so clearly the internal sentiment regarding Morris was more positive than fan sentiment.
The performance of Morris' unit in Washington and the way he is viewed by Redskins fans is enough to give Falcons fans pause, but when you look at Morris' career as an assistant as a whole, particularly the performances he coaxed out of his players in Tampa as an assistant, it's easy to see the appeal. Morris has some strong players to work with in Atlanta's secondary, particularly Desmond Trufant and William Moore. That wasn't the case in Washington over the past couple of seasons, including last season, when injuries and a lack of experience hindered the secondary's performance.
What are your thoughts on Raheem Morris? What are your expectations for the secondary under his leadership?