New Falcons coach Raheem Morris returns to Atlanta looking to ‘rewrite history’

Raheem Morris has taken over a Falcons team that has had six straight losing seasons — only the Jets (eight years) and Browns (six) have gone longer without a winning record — so understandably, he was asked Monday about the pressure to win immediately.

“This is what we do,” the 47-year-old said. “This job comes with pressure, and pressure that we’re all built for. You’ve got to embrace that. You’ve got to embrace those moments. You have to want those moments. We’ve got to live for those moments.”

Morris has felt that pressure before. At age 32 in 2009, he got his first shot as Tampa Bay’s head coach — and was fired after a 17-31 record in three seasons. He also spent six years as a Falcons assistant, finishing in 2020 with 11 games as the interim head coach, going 4-7 and losing out when Atlanta instead hired Arthur Smith, whom Morris has now replaced.

Atlanta has gone 7-10 three straight seasons, while playing in a division bad enough that the Bucs have won the NFC South the past two years with 8-9 and 9-8 records. That gives the Falcons a sense of being close, an optimism that Morris can be the coach to bring the Falcons back to sustained success, like they had as recently as with four playoff appearances in five years from 2008-12.

Morris is from New Jersey, but his time as a Falcons assistant means enough to him that he framed his hiring as “coming home,” returning to a team that was special for him, even in its losses.

“When you get a chance to go back home in this profession, it is extremely important, extremely critical to everybody involved,” he said. “That is a special moment, not just for me, but for my family. … I can feel the excitement in my texts. I can feel the excitement in phone calls. … I can’t express the joy that I have right now, to be able to come back and work with all these people around me that I’ve been with for years. This is certainly the best feeling in the world.”

The hiring of Morris wrapped up a thorough hiring process during which the Falcons interviewed 14 candidates, ranging from up-and-coming assistants who would be first-time head coaches to huge names like now-Chargers head coach Jim Harbaugh and longtime Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who has six Super Bowl rings.

Perhaps the most memorable game of Morris’ six years in Atlanta came against Belichick, in Super Bowl 51 — seven years ago Monday — when the Falcons had a 28-3 lead on the Patriots, only to see Tom Brady rally New England to a 34-28 win in overtime. The Falcons have been to only one other Super Bowl, losing to the Broncos in January 1999, and Morris said that loss to the Patriots has stayed with him and motivated him.

“It is a part of coming home,” Morris said. “That 2016 loss, it stings as bad as any one I’ve ever had. Actually, the worst I’ve ever had. To be able to come back here and get some real cool redemption — I want to watch Arthur Blank and Warrick Dunn and some of these guys hold up that trophy. … We have different things in place that are going to help us rewrite that history, and I’m going to be writing it with the fans.”

Morris brought with him a pair of new coordinators. On offense, it’s Zac Robinson, 37, who worked with Morris with the Rams for the past three years, most recently as passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach. On defense, it will be Jimmy Lake, who was a Bucs assistant with Morris and also coached with him on the Rams last season.

Morris inherits a team with talent on both sides of the ball. Guard Chris Lindstrom and safety Jessie Bates were at the Pro Bowl this week, and the offense has a trio of young stars in three former first-round picks: tight end Kyle Pitts, receiver Drake London and running back Bijan Robinson. Robinson had 1,463 yards from scrimmage as a rookie last season, scoring eight touchdowns.

What Morris doesn’t have is a quarterback. Last year’s starter, Desmond Ridder, had just 12 touchdowns against 12 interceptions, so the Falcons will be looking for a new starter, either with the No. 8 pick in April’s draft or through free agency or trade.

Morris said he hasn’t put much thought into who that might be yet, focusing on building his staff, but he understands the importance of the position. He pointed to longtime Falcons starter Matt Ryan, as well as to Matthew Stafford, who guided the Rams to a Super Bowl victory with Morris on their staff in 2021.

“When you get those guys who are elite processors, when you get those guys who are decision-makers, guys that can just cut it loose and play ball … it makes you excited,” Morris said. “To go out there and find those things, sometimes [it’s] not easy to see. You’ve got all those windows out there, all those avenues, but I have a lot of confidence in the people that are going to be able to help me be a part of finding our next quarterback to move forward.”

Greg Auman is FOX Sports’ NFC South reporter, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.

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