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Falcons say new coach Morris is 'right leader,' after interviewing Belichick, Vrabel

Jan. 26 (UPI) -- The Atlanta Falcons believe new coach Raheem Morris "is the right leader" of the future, after also interviewing Bill Belichick, Mike Vrabel and other experienced candidates for the vacancy, team owner Arthur Blank said.

Blank made the statement in a news release issued Thursday night by the Falcons. Morris, 47, is the first Black full-time head coach in Falcons history. The veteran defensive coordinator served as an interim coach for the Falcons in 2020, during his previous six-year stint with the franchise.

"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," Blank said.

The Falcons also announced that general manager Terry Fontenot will report directly to Blank on all football matters. Rich McKay, the CEO of the AMB Sports and Entertainment ownership group, and Falcons president Greg Beadles will remain in their roles.

"I am overjoyed for the opportunity for my family and I to return to Atlanta as the Falcons head coach," Morris said. "We know from firsthand experience what a first-class organization Atlanta is and what this team means to its city and its fans.

"I am incredibly appreciative of Arthur Blank for his leadership and for this entire organization for putting its trust in me to help lead this team."

The Falcons first interviewed Morris on Saturday and conducted a follow-up meeting Tuesday. The Falcons, who fired former coach Arthur Smith on Jan. 8, interviewed a long list of candidates, including Jim Harbaugh, Brian Callahan and Brian Johnson, as well as Belichick and Vrabel.

"We have conducted one of the most thorough and comprehensive searches and saw many incredible candidates through this process," Fontenot said. "Raheem is the right fit for our team, culture, and shared vision for success in Atlanta, and I cannot wait to start working with him and have his energy in our building."

Smith led the Falcons to a 21-30 overall record in three seasons as coach. They finished each of those campaigns with a 7-10 record.

The Falcons ranked 17th in points scored and 11th in points allowed in 2023. They ranked 22nd in passing yards, 9th in rushing, 8th in passing yards allowed and 20th in rushing yards allowed.

Morris started his coaching career as a graduate assistant in 1998 at Hofstra. He also worked at Cornell before joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers staff in 2002. Morris worked in defensive quality control and as an assistant and defensive backs coach before leaving in 2006 to become defensive coordinator at Kansas State.

Morris returned to the Buccaneers in 2007 as a defensive backs coach. He was hired as head coach in 2009 and led the Buccaneers to a 17-31 record over three seasons. The Buccaneers fired Morris in 2012. He was hired the same off-season to coach the Washington Redskins secondary.

Morris then joined the Falcons as an assistant and defensive pass game coordinator in 2015. He also worked as a wide receivers coach before being promoted to defensive coordinator in 2020. Morris spent the last three seasons as defensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Rams.

The Rams defensive strength under Morris was stopping the run. They were the sixth-best run-stopping unit in 2021, No. 13 in 2022 and No. 12 in 2023.

Morris was one of two coaches hired Thursday, joining new Carolina Panthers coach Dave Canales. The off-season started with eight job openings, but now only two jobs remain, with the Washington Commanders and Seattle Seahawks still searching for coaches.