The only team to interview Bill Belichick this month, the Falcons are heading in a different direction. The team is closing in on hiring Raheem Morris as its next head coach, NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero reports. ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter reports the Falcons plan to make the hire.
This comes after CBS Sports’ Jonathan Jones reported the Rams’ defensive coordinator impressed during his second interview this week. Morris had a Seahawks interview scheduled; this Falcons hire will nix that. Morris spent six seasons in Atlanta prior to moving to Los Angeles, finishing that Falcons tenure as interim HC replacing Dan Quinn. The Rams will pick up third-round picks in 2024 and 2025 for seeing a minority assistant hired as a head coach.
While Belichick overshadowed this search, the Falcons conducted a wide-ranging process to replace Arthur Smith. The team met with Mike Vrabel on Wednesday and conducted second interviews with Panthers DC Ejiro Evero and Texans OC Bobby Slowik. The Falcons also met with Ben Johnson, Aaron Glenn, Anthony Weaver and Mike Macdonald virtually, but due to the Lions and Ravens staffers being tied to teams in the conference championship round, Atlanta could not meet in-person with those candidates this week. The NFC South franchise will move forward with Morris.
The Belichick piece is obviously significant here, as this represented the longtime Patriots leader’s most likely landing spot, but this also provides a true second chance for Morris. Now 47, Morris was hired as Buccaneers HC back in 2009 at just 32. Morris lasted three years as Tampa Bay’s HC but did not prove ready for the job. (Although the 2010 Bucs won 10 games, Morris went 17-31 in Tampa.) After leaving the Falcons on good terms for L.A. in 2021, Morris collected a Super Bowl ring. Sean McVay and Rams brass offered endless praise for Morris, who will become the latest in a line of Rams staffers to land promotions elsewhere.
Another Rams piece lingers here, too. Zac Robinson, McVay’s QBs coach, has emerged as a lead candidate to follow Morris and become the Falcons’ next OC, Jones reports. This would be interesting due to the volume of interview requests in Robinson’s inbox. Robinson has interviewed with the Patriots, Saints and Bears and received requests to meet with the Steelers and Raiders. After the Bengals took Dan Pitcher off the board Wednesday, Robinson following Morris to Georgia would further deplete the OC candidate pool.
Arthur Blank targeted Belichick early, according to The Athletic’s Dianna Russini, but some internal persuasion looks to have swayed the owner. While Belichick’s accomplishments lap every other candidate in this year’s cycle, Morris also checks the experience box Blank sought — now becoming the first retread HC hire in the owner’s 22-year run — due to his Tampa Bay tenure and 2020 stay as the Atlanta interim boss. SI.com’s Albert Breer indicated this week the non-Blank sect of Falcons brass may not have been as interested in Belichick, and it is worth wondering if the prospect of the six-time Super Bowl champion HC shaking up Atlanta’s power structure played a role in the organization passing.
Belichick, 71, is five years older than anyone ever hired to be a full-time NFL head coach. The Bucs’ 2019 Bruce Arians hire still leads the way here, and this offseason would represent one of the most interesting carousels in league history if it leaves Belichick without a chair. Reports last week pegged Belichick — the first coach to meet with the Falcons twice — as the clear favorite, to the point he had the right of first refusal and was in a way interviewing the Falcons about a fit. As the days passed since Belichick’s Atlanta meeting, it started to look like Belichick was losing ground. The Falcons ended up meeting with 14 candidates.
Throughout Belichick’s Patriots tenure, he held personnel power. The Falcons had Blank and CEO Rich McKay running this search, but the team still has GM Terry Fontenot in place. Fontenot arrived as Morris exited in 2021; the two are now set to work together. The prospect of Belichick ultimately answering to McKay could have also been a red flag for the legendary HC, and Fontenot’s role would likely have been impacted by a Belichick hire. The Falcons also passing on Belichick bringing back a host of ex-Patriot staffers, including the likes of Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia, also could have served as a dealbreaker for the team.
After Morris and Dave Canales (Panthers) agreed to terms in the NFC South today, only two teams — the Commanders and Seahawks — are looking for HCs. Neither have met with Belichick, and neither is believed to be interested. Rumblings about teams with HC vacancies being open to Belichick have surfaced, but unless a team were to fire its coach and create a late vacancy, it is looking like the 2024 season will be the first without Belichick in a head coaching role since 1999.
Belichick has been either a head coach or an assistant in the NFL each year since 1975. Beginning with his native Baltimore Colts, Belichick initially landed on the HC radar after winning two Super Bowls as Giants defensive coordinator. A Browns partnership in the early ’90s did not produce consistent success, but after Belichick teamed again with Bill Parcells with the Patriots and Jets later in the decade, Robert Kraft brought him back as head coach. That union (with a heavy assist from Tom Brady) produced one of the great HC runs in sports history, but the Pats have moved on after a 4-13 season, hiring heir apparent Jerod Mayo.
Will Belichick — 14 wins shy of Don Shula‘s all-time record — be willing to take an assistant job somewhere to continue his career? Belichick made a public comment indicating a willingness to relinquish authority in New England, but it worth wondering if other teams were leery about giving him the keys after recent struggles on the GM front in Foxborough. This Morris hire represents good news for Fontenot, who was tasked with a rebuild upon being hired in 2021. He appears set to continue that work with a second head coach.
The Falcons gave Morris the interim job in October 2020; he went 4-7 in that span, finishing off a 4-12 season for the team. Atlanta has since finished 7-10 in each of the past three seasons, with ugly late-season losses ending Smith’s run. In Morris, the Falcons have a familiar face who was part of Quinn’s Super Bowl LI staff. Morris also showed versatility during his first Atlanta stint, being the rare coach to work on both sides of the ball for the same franchise. The Falcons employed Morris as their wide receivers coach from 2016-19, shifting him to defensive coordinator in 2020.
Morris replaced Brandon Staley as Rams DC and served as the top defensive voice in the building for a Super Bowl champion. Riding an Aaron Donald–Von Miller–Jalen Ramsey veteran nucleus, Morris helped that defense crest at the right time. That said, the Rams ranked first in scoring and total defense under Staley in 2020; they never placed higher than 15th in either category under Morris. But the latter also displayed his coaching acumen this year, seeing several Super Bowl pieces stripped from the roster. The Rams still found their way back to the playoffs, with third-rounders Kobie Turner and Byron Young providing vital Donald support during what was initially labeled a rebuilding season.
It is still interesting the Falcons hired a Quinn staffer to be their next HC, and the Morris move also marks new territory in modern NFL history. Although 12 teams have elevated interim HCs to the full-time post in the 21st century, this is the only post-2000 occurrence of a team bringing back its interim leader after he subsequently coached elsewhere.
Morris will be tasked with leading a team Fontenot has indeed upgraded but one that appears in need at quarterback. The Falcons are expected to pursue an upgrade on Desmond Ridder, and Morris will be expected to use his defensive background to enhance that unit’s capabilities as well. The Falcons have not made the playoffs since 2017; they will bet on Morris over Belichick to become a better long-term leader.