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In surprise move, Falcons hiring Raheem Morris as new head coach

Raheem Morris’ long-awaited second chance has apparently arrived.

The Atlanta Falcons are hiring the longtime NFL coach, most recently the Los Angeles Rams’ defensive coordinator, the team announced Thursday night.

The opportunity comes to Morris 13 years after his three-year run leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who hired him at the age of 32 in 2009. He went 17-31 in Tampa and did not reach the playoffs.

Morris, who’s admitted in retrospect he wasn’t quite ready for the Bucs job, has spent the last decade-plus preparing for another shot. He’s continued forging his long-held reputation as a leader whom players will go to the mat for. There’s also a familiarity factor as he served as Atlanta’s interim coach in 2020 after Dan Quinn was fired following an 0-5 start. The team went 4-7 with Morris the rest of the way.

After his ouster in Tampa Bay, Morris spent three years coaching the secondary in Washington. He then spent six years on Quinn’s staff in Atlanta – mostly on the offensive side of the ball working with receivers and coordinating the Matt Ryan-led passing game. In 2021, Morris reunited with Rams coach Sean McVay, whom he’d worked with in Washington, to run LA’s defense.

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The moves comes as a bit of a surprise given how widely linked Falcons owner Arthur Blank, 81, was linked to former New England Patriots legend Bill Belichick, winner of six Super Bowls. Atlanta has never won a Lombardi Trophy in its 58 seasons.

But in a win on the league’s diversity front, Morris, who is Black, was hired on the same day that the division rival Carolina Panthers hired Mexican-American Dave Canales as their new head man. The NFL has long been criticized for the lack of minorities who occupy key leadership positions throughout the league, but this offseason has marked a possible turning point given the Patriots also promoted Jerod Mayo to succeed Belichick while the Las Vegas Raiders removed Antonio Pierce’s interim tag.

‘With 26 years of experience in the NFL, including the last three in an outstanding organization that has won our league’s championship in that time, Raheem emerged from a field of excellent candidates and is the right leader to take our team into the future,’ Falcons owner Arthur Blank said in a statement. ‘His time in LA has given him an enhanced perspective on everything from personnel, team operations, game planning, working with an outstanding offensive staff and many other things that has helped him develop into an even more prepared coach in all aspects of the game.’

Morris will assume a post vacated following the firing of Arthur Smith, who finished 7-10 in all three of his seasons. General manager Terry Fontenot, who has assembled what appears to be a formidable roster that underachieved last season under Smith despite the team’s membership in the eminently winnable NFC South, remains in his role. An 11th-ranked defense is anchored by Pro Bowl safety Jessie Bates III, cornerback A.J. Terrell and lineman David Onyemata. However the offense – loaded with first-rounders like receiver Drake London, tight end Kyle Pitts and tailback Bijan Robinson, who play with a very formidable line – appears to be the sleeping giant.

Of course, the glaring issue for Morris and Fontenot to fix in 2024 will be at quarterback after the team opted not to pursue Lamar Jackson last year or upgrade from its shaky combination of Desmond Ridder and Taylor Heinicke.

The Falcons are scheduled to pick eighth in the first round of the 2024 draft and are projected to have roughly $25 million to spend in free agency.

This post appeared first on USA TODAY

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