When Brandon Staley took the Los Angeles Chargers head coaching position back in mid-January, the Los Angeles Rams were left without a defensive coordinator, a familiar feeling from just a season ago when Staley replaced Wade Phillips, following his three-season stint with the Rams (2017-19).
Enter Raheem Morris.
Morris, 44, has almost two decades of experience coaching in the NFL where he most recently served as the interim head coach of the Atlanta Falcons for the final 11 games of the 2020 season. He spent his first five seasons with the Falcons as the assistant head coach and helped on both sides of the ball as the wide receivers and defensive backs coach.
The 2020 season was the first for Morris as the full-time defensive coordinator before taking the reins as head coach. He comes into the Rams organization knowing full well what he is inheriting at his new job, especially when it comes to personnel.
“I don’t think it’s pressure. I think it’s more of an opportunity,” Morris said during a virtual press conference. “Anytime you get a chance to be a part of greatness, join greatness, be a part of a bunch of winning like you guys have been able to do around here in the past. To be able to add on to an already proven franchise, it fires me up and it is certainly something I will relish.”
Morris saw a majority of his success with his time with Tampa Bay (2002-11), where he served as a defensive assistant coach and helped the Bucs win Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003 and later when on to become the head coach in 2009. That same year Morris was not just the youngest coach in the league, he also guided Tampa Bay to a 10-6 record, marking the best turnaround in franchise history after the Bucs went 3-13 the previous season.
Former Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber spoke with the Rams’ Stu Jackson about what separates Morris from other defensive coaches and referred to his former coach as “a chameleon” with how well Morris is able to adjust to opposing offenses. This can be construed as a recipe for great success if you’re the Rams.
Additionally, Morris understands how great of a defensive unit the Rams had in 2020. Morris knows the importance of formulating a plan that works with the players you have. With players like three-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald and multi-All-Pro and Pro Bowl cornerback Jalen Ramsey leading the charge, Morris is not shy in his excitement of being able to work with two cornerstones of the team.
“You don’t mess them up,” Morris said. “Jalen Ramsey is a fundamentally sound, absolute dog and competitor. He goes out there with toughness week after week and that’s someone you want on your sideline. Aaron Donald is just so much fun to watch. He’s a disruptor, a finisher and he’s the guy that gets things going. And he’s the type of player you, of course, want to get one-on-one matchups every play but he’s done such a tremendous job getting his teammates those one-on-ones and setting up the guys around him. You don’t want to take that side of his strength away either.”
The task of taking over an elite defense seems a bit easier since Morris and Rams head coach Sean McVay previously worked together as assistants for the John Gruden-led Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2008. Morris and McVay also worked for multiple seasons with the Washington Redskins ( now the Washington Football Team) where Morris served as the defensive backs coach (2012-14) and McVay carried three titles as offensive assistant (2010), tight ends coach (2011-13) and offensive coordinator (2014-16).
Morris commended McVay and general manager Les Snead for developing a culture of what the Rams organization wants to accomplish overall.
“It’s been a lot of fun sitting in these meetings talking about our team and hearing everybody within our program talk about our team,” Morris said. “Hearing from everybody across the board, gathering all of this information and knowing how the culture has been built and knowing where we want to go and what we have to do makes it an easier flow.”
The Rams ranked first in the entire NFL last season thanks in large part to Staley’s plan of attack and schemes. Morris has been able to extensively experience firsthand the various defensive schemes while adding his own spice. His previous advisors and their way of coaching have been an important element in Morris’ development as a coach and have allowed him to find ways to implement his teachings onto his type of system.
“The greatest coaches in this league are the best thieves,” Morris said. “I’ve been able to steal from these guys from afar for a long time. To be able to be a part of it and steal some of the greatest things you can get from some great coaches like a Staley, the Vic Fangio system. Whether you’re talking about the Monte Kiffin/Tony Dungy Tampa-2, however, you want to word it but at the end of the day, it all goes back to the competitiveness of the team, the toughness of the team, the physicality of the team. These are just some of the core beliefs that we are going to carry on here.”
Morris had interviewed for the head coaching position with the Falcons before the team decided to go with Arthur Smith. Once the announcement was made, Morris knew it was time to get back into the interview process for the defensive coordinator position with teams who were searching.
As if poetically, he received the call from McVay in the days following the NFC Divisional Round loss to the Green Bay Packers and was hired to the Rams staff on Jan. 21.
“It was an opportunity I didn’t want to pass up,” Morris said. “You talk about being able to work with the people in this business that you have a good relationship with, and you want to win for and [the opportunity in Los Angeles] certainly fit all of those characteristics of the place that you wanted to go. I’ve heard nothing but great things about this media, this community, this team, and how we are trying to move forward and go get that Super Bowl ring.”