The life of a coach is tumultuous by nature. The old adage is that coaches get hired in order to get fired and with very few exceptions (Bill Belichick, Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher) every coach gets fired no matter how good they’ve been. Even Tom Landry got fired from the Dallas Cowboys (Hank Hill just poured a little Alamo out in memoriam).
Raheem Morris has had his own version of a tumultuous journey by being a hot young coordinator who perhaps was named a head coach too soon. He’s been trying to rebuild his standing and get another shot at the big job, but first, he has to lead last year’s number one ranked defense and take them to the next level. No pressure.
Raheem Morris turned 45 on September 3rd and he’s already lived a coaching life. After playing safety at Hofstra University he stayed on as a graduate assistant and then moved upstate to Ivy League serving as Cornell’s DB coach as well as a special team assistant. After having an internship with the Jets he began his first tour in Tampa Bay.
From 2002-2005 Raheem Morris was an assistant coach and part of the staff that won a Super Bowl. After three years in Tampa Bay as an assistant under Monte Kiffin and secondary coach Mike Tomlin, Morris became the defensive coordinator at Kansas State where he immediately turned that defense around to the point where they were able to upset the #4 Longhorns. Before he could build on that early success, Gruden hired him back to be the defensive backs coach and it’s from there that Raheem Morris’s star began to rise.
Raheem Morris’s impact on the Bucs, like Kansas State, was immediate. Under his watch, the secondary greatly improved to the point where the Bucs had the top-ranked passing defense in his first season. In 2008, Monte Kiffin left the Bucs to go coach the Tennessee (and very soon after, USC) defense under his son Lane and that meant Morris would be promoted to defensive coordinator. Before he could prove his skills as a coordinator, Jon Gruden was fired after failing to win a playoff game since winning the Super Bowl, and they quickly named Raheem Morris to be the head coach. The Bucs were making the bet that Morris would be ready for the job as Mike Tomlin proved to be when he spent one season as the Vikings defensive coordinator before being the third head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Unfortunately for Morris, the Bucs job was more of a fixer-upper than the Steelers were so he didn’t get the immediate success Tomlin did. The Bucs went 0-7 to start the ’08 season, but after taking over the defensive playcalling duties wound up with a 3-13 record. Not great. But a year later the Bucs went 10-6 starting mostly rookies and just missed out on the playoffs. Sadly, Morris couldn’t translate that success in year three as they finished 4-12. In fact, his time got so dark Bill Simmons invented a gambling stat called WARM (Wins Above Raheem Morris) to determine the quality of NFL coaches. Morris’s last season was acrimonious with Josh aka “JAAAASSSSSSSH” Freeman throwing 22 picks which were triple his number the season prior. The defense fell to 30th in the league in yards and statistically the worst everywhere else. There were reasons for that, namely, the vaunted defense of old got old and the Bucs did a very poor job drafting (Gerald McCoy being the exception).
Raheem quickly found a job being the defensive backs coach for Washington for two seasons which didn’t amount to much but it did reunite him with Sean McVay who was a Bucs offensive assistant in 2008, and in Washington was the offensive coordinator. After the 2014 season, Raheem Morris became an assistant head coach in Atlanta which reunited him with Kyle Shanahan and Matt LaFleur who Morris worked with while in Washington. His time in Atlanta was of course eventful. He not only was an assistant head coach but worked as a receivers coach and passing game coordinator. He experienced the infamous 28-3 game, the subsequent Super Bowl hangover, and eventually became the defensive coordinator and interim head coach again. Morris took an 0-5 team and got them to four wins which was an achievement considering that like in Tampa Bay, management did a very poor job of drafting/signing defensive talent. Last year’s Falcons were bad and while he didn’t make people proud he made them feel less shame.
Brandon Staley left big shoes to fill after just one season. It was all but inevitable that he’d get a head coaching job and it felt like the plane had just touched down from Green Bay when he got the Chargers job. Many thought it would be an internal guy like Aubrey Pleasant (now with the Lions) or Joe Barry (now with the Packers), but instead, Sean McVay went with his old friend Raheem Morris. Morris is a similar hire to Wade Phillips in that both have been head coaches at one point. McVay wanted someone who could run that side of the ball while McVay integrated Matthew Stafford in his restrictor-plate free offense.
Morris wisely decided he wasn’t going to rock the boat much and is keeping a lot of Staley’s scheme while adding a few touches of his own. This is the most talent he’s ever had on defense and if he was ever going to prove his mettle as a defensive mind this is the time. There’s naturally going to be a drop-off from last year even if Staley hadn’t moved to the other side of SoFi, but Morris can’t allow there to be much of a dip and has little margin of error given the expectations.
Perhaps that’s why McVay went with his friend over his in-house guys. Yes, coaching, like being a doctor is all about who you know, but McVay knows Morris has seen a lot in his young coaching career. He’s seen the highs and experienced a lot of lows. If the Rams are to get over the hump they’ll need someone who has been there before and then some. Raheem Morris got too much too soon and was the equivalent of being the teen mayor who blew the town’s entire budget on Ice Town. He was the downside to taking a swing on a Mike Tomlin figure and spent the next decade trying to rebuild his brand. Now, his redemption arc is almost complete, all that’s left is to win a Super Bowl as a coordinator/assistant head coach. If the Rams do that then the only question left is who will run the defense in 2022?