Dan Quinn made the wise decision to delegate many of his responsibilities as defensive coordinator mid-season in 2019. It literally saved his job. Because notwithstanding an inconsistent and confounding offense, Morris turned a bad defense into a borderline good one in a matter of weeks.
An interesting, perennial phenomenon will make its mid-Winter appearance this month. It’s a process that in many ways rivals the NFL Draft in its absurdity. It’s the process by which desperate, losing teams replace their head coaches. Much like a draft pick, a new head coach can thrill the fan base with their mere presence. But given only a couple of years of disappointing results, they too become disposable, just like their predecessors before them. (Unless we’re talking about the Falcons, in which case all bets are off.) 8 NFL teams replaced their head coaches last year. Those 8 teems did 34 interviews, meaning the candidate pool wasn’t small. This year there are going to fewer vacancies to fill. Will Morris be on any team’s short list? Probably not.
Morris isn’t new to this. He’s been a football coach since the late 1990s. He’s a well-respected, experienced assistant and had a run as the Buccaneers’ head coach between 2009 and 2011. He’s almost universally regarded as a coach that gets the most from his players because of his excellent communication skills. It’d be unfair to call his time as head coach of the Buccaneers an abject disaster, because he inherited the ruins Jon Gruden left behind and was forced to start 10 rookies during his second year. But his time as head coach didn’t go particularly well, and he ended that 3 year stretch with a 17-31 record. It’s worth noting that Morris is only 43 years old. He was named the Buccaneers head coach on January 16, 2009, 4 months after his 32nd birthday.
Morris recently earned a promotion: he will serve as the Falcons’ defensive coordinator in 2020. He will continue to work in tandem with Jeff Ulbrich, and that dynamic duo had a lot of success during the second half of 2019. But making this defense serviceable was only step 1, and with the Falcons determined to give Dirk Koetter one last chance to prove he’s not the inept offensive coordinator we all know him to be, the Falcons need an elite defense, not a serviceable one. (What’s more, from a personnel standpoint, Thomas Dimitroff and company arguably haven’t given Morris the players he would need to assemble a truly elite defense.)
I’ve never met Morris, nor do I expect to have that opportunity anytime soon. Something tells me he’d like to get another shot as a head coach, because why not? But I also doubt that’s what keeps him up at night. He’s done nothing to suggest that he isn’t singularly focused on making the Falcons a better football team.
Here’s the bottom line: Morris is unlikely to get many looks from teams in search of a new head coach, at least this year. For his sake, I hope he does, but I’ll be shocked if the market goes north of lukewarm. 2021 is an entirely different story, one that will have a happy ending for Morris and the Falcons if the defense continues its current trajectory.