Skip to main content

Past, present and future, Raheem Morris understands the importance of being a Black head coach in the NFL

Prior to Raheem Morris, the Falcons had never had a full-time Black head coach in team history.

ATLANTA — Raheem Morris knows he's not the first, ever.

That honor dates back more than a century to Fritz Pollard in 1921 with the Akron Pros. Pollard was the first-ever Black head coach in NFL history.

Then, a good chunk of time passed before Art Shell became the second-ever Black head coach in the league and the first in the modern era, which began after the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. Shell coached the then-Los Angeles Raiders from 1989-94 and again in 2006 after the team moved to back Oakland, California.

Since those two broke the barrier, names like Tony Dungy, Jim Caldwell, Herm Edwards, Marvin Lewis, Lovie Smith and others — but still not enough to say many — have continued to pave the way inside the professional ranks.

In 2023, there were four Black head coaches: Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Todd Bowles of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Mike McDaniel of the Miami Dolphins and DeMeco Ryans of the Houston Texans. That count will double in 2024 with the additions of Morris, Jerod Mayo with the New England Patriots and Antonio Pierce with the now-Las Vegas Raiders. What's more, with the inclusion of Dave Canales of the Carolina Panthers and Robert Saleh of the New York Jets, the count for minority head coaches in the NFL increases to nine in 2024, the most in league history.

"That's about us. All of us," Morris said Monday in his introductory press conference. "That is the progress. That is the movement. That is what we look for."

There is protocol in place to help with diversity, with the Rooney Rule. It was implemented in 2003 to promote the number of minority head coaches — and later executives and general managers — in the NFL. It requires teams to interview at least two external minority candidates in person before making a hire at a vacant head coach position.

The Falcons interviewed Morris in person on Jan. 23; it was their second interview. The Falcons also held a second interview with Ejiro Evero in person on Jan. 24.

In total, Atlanta interviewed 14 candidates, four of whom made it to a second round.

"You know what the coolest part about this process was?" Morris said. "That it wasn't even brought up about it being a lack of diversity, about there being a lack of opportunity for Black people having the opportunity to be head coaches. … I thought that was a real cool moment, that that was less about what we talked about and was more about the right people for the job and the right placement for people in their jobs than that."

Morris is the first full-time Black head coach in Atlanta Falcons history. That became official on Jan. 25 when the Falcons announced his hiring.

Morris isn't new to the organization, either. He worked for the Falcons from 2015-20, beginning as the assistant head coach/defensive pass-game coordinator and completing that six-season stint as the interim head coach for the final 11 games of the 2020 season. The word "interim" stood between Morris and the record books back then — but not anymore.

"I want you guys to know I do understand the importance of being the first Black coach in Atlanta history without an interim tag," Morris said. "I understand the importance of that for us, understand that importance for the people before me, the people after me, the current people right now. I understand the importance of that and how important that is to this city, particularly where we are right now in the mecca of Black history. I think that's very important to acknowledge."

The 47-year-old is well aware he is setting an example. That's a fact that hits close to home, too.

Morris is a father of three — Amaya, Maliya and Jalen. His children, along with his wife, Nicole, were in the crowd as Morris spoke on this important matter. His son, Jalen, the youngest, sat in the front row of the family and friends section off to Morris' left.

"It was more about the people before me, it was more about the people after me," Morris said. "And particularly, that little one sitting over there in Jalen. It's more about him."

Atlanta Falcons head coach Raheem Morris travels from Los Angeles to Atlanta with his family on Saturday, February 3, 2024. (Photo by Shanna Lockwood/Atlanta Falcons)

Related Content