With the Falcons rebuilding their staff under new head coach Arthur Smith, it was inevitable that assistants would find new jobs. Today, let’s round up where interim head coach Raheem Morris, defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich, and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter are headed. We still don’t know where special teams coordinator Bernie Parmalee will land, as he’s listed as being on staff at the moment despite the hiring of new special teams coordinator Marquice Williams.
Raheem Morris to the Rams
We’ll start with Morris, who got head coaching interviews this offseason but did not get hired anywhere. He’s instead landed as the defensive coordinator of the Rams, where old pal Sean McVay is the head coach, and where he’ll have the talent to field a great defense in 2021.
The veteran coach played significant roles on both sides of the ball in the Dan Quinn era in Atlanta, but it was his 11 game stint as the interim head coach of the Falcons that he’ll be remembered best for. Morris took a team that was 0-5 and an utter wreck defensively and with the help of Ulbrich and the defensive coaching staff got them to play at least decently down the stretch, including a legitimately impressive shutdown of the Chiefs on the road. In total, Morris went 4-7 and unquestionably did more with and got more out of the roster than Quinn during that listless start to the season, showing his coaching chops in the process.
He’s landing in a much better situation with the Rams, who were dominant on his side of the ball last year and have future Hall of Famer Aaron Donald, the great Jalen Ramsey, and a cast of intriguing young players. He also reunites with Sean McVay, who he spent time with in Washington, and will likely have a better bite at the apple in the next coaching cycle as a result.
Given that Brandon Staley just went from first-time NFL defensive coordinator to head coach in the span of a single season, Morris should be a head coach this time next year if the Rams defense is excellent once again. He has unquestionably shown that he deserves another shot at it after his work in a very difficult situation with the Falcons, even if his in-game decisions were not often inspiring much in the way of confidence.
Jeff Ulbrich to the Jets
Ulbrich, meanwhile, goes to the Jets as the defensive coordinator and play caller under new head coach Robert Saleh. Given that Saleh is a defensive-minded head coach who did excellent work in San Francisco, it’s a big show of faith in Ulbrich’s abilities.
There’s no denying that his increased involvement with the defense in 2019 and again in 2020 after Quinn was fired was a reason Atlanta’s D improved, and he’ll be tasked with pulling more out of a rebuilding Jets team at his new stop. The fact that he was also involved with the defense when they were putrid is clearly something that’s not denting his reputation, but then, it hardly seemed to impact Quinn either, given that he landed the defensive coordinator job in Traditionally jobs with the Jets have not been tickets to bigger and better things, but Ulbrich is clearly drawing respect and increased recognition for his work and will be someone to watch going forward. I think it’s a great hire for the Jets.
Dirk Koetter retires
And then there’s Koetter, who will hang it up after nearly four decades in coaching.
Dirk Koetter retires after 39 years in coaching https://t.co/GRIBkc3xQV— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) January 22, 2021
Koetter has done just about everything a coach can do, having served as a high school coach, college offensive coordinator, college head coach, NFL offensive coordinator, and NFL head coach during that long career. He had quality offenses in Jacksonville with Maurice Jones-Drew and a less-than-ideal quarterback situation, piloted a Falcons offense that went from tired in 2011 to close-to-a-Super-Bowl in 2012, and managed to escape the wreckage of the Falcons to land an offensive coordinator job in Tampa Bay that turned into a head coaching gig. He then surprisingly wound up back in Atlanta, and will likely go down as Matt Ryan’s longest-tenured offensive coordinator, as well as tied for the longest-tenured offensive coordinator in Atlanta history.
Koetter’s final two years in Atlanta were a source of constant aggravation for Falcons fans—it was hard not to talk about our frustration with his offense on a weekly basis in 2020 in particular—as his volume passing attack and vestigial run game turned out to be a bigger issue than a traditionally lousy Falcons defense. It’s no great exaggeration to say that after Morris and Ulbrich wrestled the defense into decent shape down the stretch, Koetter’s offense was the team’s major problem, and it took until very late in the season for it to function at a decent level without Julio Jones. It’s not Koetter’s fault he was brought back by a Falcons team that should’ve gone in a different direction—he is who he is as a coach, and his offenses need a particular set of players to function at a reasonably high level—but it’s fair to say not many Falcons fans will be sad to see him go.
That’s a shame in a way because Koetter’s 2012 offense proved to be a nice changeup for Atlanta, which was coming off an embarrassing 2 point effort in the 2011 playoffs against the Giants. Ryan had maybe his most impressive season to that point and the team came very close to unseating the 49ers and heading to the Super Bowl, but 2013 featured injuries to Julio Jones and Roddy White and a putrid line and the 2014 season saw a healthier team still scuffle. He was a fine coordinator overall for the team in his first go-around, in other words, and we’ll always appreciate 2012.
We wish him well in retirement, and we wish Morris and Ulbrich good luck in their new roles.