The Atlanta Falcons threw a curve ball during its head coaching search. For weeks, all things seemed to point towards Bill Belichick as Atlanta’s newest head coach. Arthur Blank and Rich McKay then drastically broadened the coaching search with interviews among a slew of potential candidates, including hot names like John Harbaugh, Ben Johnson, Bobby Slowik, Aaron Glenn, Ejiro Evero, Mike Macdonald, and Brian Callahan.
The Falcons instead pivoted and brought back former interim-head coach Raheem Morris after a stint as the Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator. The selection is controversial for some. We decided to get a slew of thoughts on Atlanta’s recent hires from the Falcoholic staff.
Shocking but Morris has a lot to do to turn around the Falcons
I’m going to admit that I was certain Arthur Blank would hire Bill Belichick before Arthur Smith was even hired. It had the classic Smith panache to it. After all, he is absolutely aching for a big move to re-energize this fanbase that hasn’t watched a winning season since 2017. Looking back, Blank has consistently courted and nabbed one of the top “big” names in his hiring cycles dating back to the surprising Bobby Petrino hire. Grabbing Morris over Belichick may be the complete antithesis of everything Blank has done (or tried to do) in the last two decades. Morris isn’t going to grab headlines or sell seats the way Belichick could. Belichick forces the Falcons into the national conversation starting the second after it is announced.
At the same time, I may be giving Blank credit for what may simply be a Rich McKay power move. Or maybe Blank just didn’t want to hire another grumbly coach with no idea how to run an offense.
Of course, this hire is about more than who the Falcons didn’t hire. I really like Morris as he provides some unique experience with both sides of the football. Dan Quinn, who didn’t always make the right decisions with coaches, gave Morris plenty of unique opportunities to help patch together a head coach caliber resume. Since leaving Atlanta, Morris coached the Rams defense, including in a Super Bowl win. The hope is that Morris can take his earlier head coaching experience with Tampa Bay, and mix in some Dan Quinn energy and Sean McVay attention to detail. Morris should get an opportunity to build his team, likely starting with a quarterback of the future. Before getting to that point, I’m very interested in seeing where Morris goes with his coordinators and assistant coaches. Those coordinators should set the tone, but it’d be a lie to say all eyes aren’t on the new offensive coordinator and how he will fix what’s going on with Atlanta. If Morris gets the quarterback and offensive coordinator right, he’s going to spend a long time in Atlanta.
— Matt Chambers
A fresh path with a familiar face
It’s difficult to get an organization to say they made the wrong move, but that’s more or less what the Atlanta Falcons are saying right now by hiring Raheem Morris after passing up on the opportunity to do so back in 2020 when he was their interim head coach. Hiring Bill Belichick would have been a splash and hiring a young offensive coordinator like Ben Johnson or Bobby Slowik would’ve been applauded, but hiring Raheem Morris earned approval from players in the building and elsewhere and NFL media, but not so much from the Falcons fanbase. Atlanta made this hire aware, to some degree, that it would feel to a significant portion of the fanbase like this was a Rich McKay decision to preserve his power and a move that reaches back into the past instead of moving forward; the move to push McKay out of day-to-day football operations may or may not help with that perception.
I understand that thought process. What is shocking to me is that the Falcons were willing to go beyond Arthur Blank’s reported first instinct and bring back a coach they probably should not have let leave in the first place, especially in light of the fact that they’re hiring him right now. The Falcons clearly thought Morris picked up a lot in the last three years; it’s mentioned in the team release about the hire and Brett Jewkes hit that note on Twitter.
Why him? The Rams have raved about Morris in the hopes of landing him a job, players who have played for him love him, and the job he did last year in particular with a pretty ragtag group of defenders outside of a couple of greats like Aaron Donald likely helped him land this job, as did his existing ties in the building. What Morris brings to the table is a proven history as an effective motivator of men, an extensive history coaching in a variety of roles, and (I’m guessing here, but it’s an educated guess) a list of staff he’d bring with him that would intrigue Falcons brass. This team wants to win right now; they clearly feel Morris and his staff will be able to get much more out of this roster than the staff was able to in 2023, especially after Fontenot hopefully puts together another strong offseason.
The fact that they were willing to bet on Morris being the man to reverse six years of losing after they weren’t willing to make that bet a few years ago tells you a lot about the organization’s confidence that they’ve made the right hire. It’s more than reasonable to be skeptical about the franchise’s judgement, but it’s difficult to spin this as being a hire designed to save Rich McKay’s job; they could’ve gone with a younger, more pliable head coach if that was the aim and not had to look like they screwed up by passing on Morris three years ago. It’s especially hard to defend that line of thinking in light of the fact that the team release makes it clear that Morris will report up to Arthur Blank, as will Terry Fontenot, in a reversal of the last few years in Atlanta. In what could be Blank’s final years owning the team, he came around on Morris being the hire who could pilot this franchise to new heights despite his initial fixation with Belichick, and if that doesn’t say a lot about who Morris is and what he conveyed in his interviews, I don’t know what will.
I don’t know if Morris will work out in Atlanta, mostly because I don’t know who he will hire on his staff and who his quarterback will be, but I like his chances of succeeding if he can check those items off the list effectively. He’s a very good coach, and the Falcons are betting that they’ll win with him at the helm, starting...well, right about now.
Raheem Morris has earned a second shot and I’m glad it’s here
On the one hand, was all of this worth blowing up the understood plan in place with Arthur Smith? I mean, if I had told you on the day that Smith was fired that Raheem Morris would be the eventual selection, would it have added to your joy or dampened it slightly? Morris isn’t just a retread head coach, he’s been an interim head coach here in Atlanta!
With names like Bill Belichick and Jim Harbaugh getting tossed around, it’s understandable to feel like the team has settled, afraid to make the big, bold move.
There’s no doubt that many of the coaches the Falcons spoke to have incredible track records and could likely do some good things with this roster. But I think Morris comes to Atlanta with a higher floor than coaches like Ben Johnson or Bobby Slowik, and I think his growth potential is higher than a Steve Wilks or certainly a Belichick.
I would not be shocked if Morris’s second stint compares favorably to Mike Vrabel’s run in Tennessee. He is a phenomenal culture guy who can connect with every single player on the roster and staff member in the building. Trust me when I tell you, Raheem Morris could get a wall to run through itself.
But he possessed that same quality when he was here in Atlanta the first time around, so that’s not what sold me. Instead, it was what he did after his run with the Falcons. Morris went across the country to join Sean McVay and an entirely new staff with a different system of operation. He had to learn and adapt to the next era of NFL football. I think the experience Morris brings to this job is frankly as impressive as anyone below the Belichick-Harbaugh tier.
I’m pretty confident Morris has been waiting for the right head-coaching opportunity, because it might be his last. In Atlanta, he won’t waste a second getting acclimated. He can get started from the jump, and I’m excited to see what he’s got in mind.
- Will McFadden
I’m just glad that they finally hired someone
January always feels like an incredibly long month following the holiday season, but this year January just felt like three months wrapped into one. The team fired Arthur Smith after a couple of bleh seasons, and it was deserving. I liked the Smith hire when it initially happened, more so because I liked the idea of finally having an offensive-minded head coach running the show, but it just didn’t work out with Smith in the end.
With that being said, I was hoping that wouldn’t shy the team away from brining in another offensive-geared coach, maybe Ben Johnson for example, but it seemed like a long shot based on recent reports. Bill Belichick appeared to be the early favorite, but familiar face Raheem Morris was lurking in the shadows. He’s back, and I don’t really have a strong opinion one way or another, I just want to win. Morris is familiar with the organization, so he’s definitely a safe pick that shouldn't rock the boat too much. Current and former players have nothing but positive things to say about him, so that’s definitely something to take note of. Previous coaches and management staff around the league have also praised Morris as a talent that deserved to be a head coach again, and now he has his shot.
Overall, I’m not sure how this will go. I’m hoping it obviously leads to a Super Bowl victory, but we will see what sort of structure is in place this offseason. Who will be our offensive coordinator? Who is the Falcons opening day quarterback? There’s some major questions left to be answered before we start talking a return to the playoffs. - Evan Birchfield
This feels like the right call, even if it’s not the splashiest
As much as I tried to warm myself up to Belichick in the recent weeks and feel like that could’ve worked if everything had clicked, I’m relieved this is the path the Falcons took. Hiring Belichick was always going to be a massive risk/reward situation, but the “Patriot Way” has such a tenuous shelf life that it could’ve spoiled very quickly with little return. Plus, all of Belichick’s high-profile assistants seemed like grade-A jerks, and we don’t need that energy in Atlanta. It’s for the best that Blank chose Morris instead.
There are so many proven winners in the NFL who have voiced support for Morris getting a job that it’s hard to argue with this being a savvy hire for the organization. I’m really hopeful that his stellar reputation and experience will get the Falcons where they need to go, and success could be sustained with the right quarterback decisions and coaching hires to come. For now, I’m just happy for Morris, who seems like a swell guy and has as much love going in his direction as any coaching hire in recent years. It’s nice when the good guys win. I’ll readily take this over a couple of years with the guy who beat us in Super Bowl 51. - Cory Woodroof
I absolutely love this hire
I was covering the Falcons extensively during Morris’ first three seasons with the Falcons, and he has the intangibles a head coach needs to succeed. He’s easy to get along with, incredibly enthusiastic and high-energy, very competitive, a great teacher, and an excellent leader. Of all the players he’s coached, I’ve never heard a single one say a negative thing about him. In fact, Jalen Ramsey noted that free agents will be eager to land in Atlanta with Morris at the helm.
Those qualities aren’t a guarantee for success, and yes, we did hear similar things from players about how much they loved Dan Quinn and Arthur Smith. The difference with Morris is his experience as a head coach and on both sides of the ball.
I was skeptical when Morris became the Falcons’ passing game coordinator, but he applied his experience on the other side of the ball to the role and he did well with the position group. His time in Tampa Bay, his first head coaching gig, wasn’t a smashing success, but he’s had a lot of quality experience in the years since. He wasn’t a world-beater as the Falcons’ interim head coach either, but if a team has to fire its coach mid-season, the season is unlikely to be salvageable regardless of who is appointed as the interim.
It doesn’t matter how much talent a coach has if he can’t get through to his players, and I think it’s fair to say that, based on what we saw on the field, it appeared Arthur Smith wasn’t getting through the Falcons toward the end of his tenure. Bringing in a new voice — especially Morris, with the respect he’s earned from the guys who have played for him — should make a big difference this season. - Jeanna Kelley