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What we learned from Raheem Morris introductory press conference

Raheem Morris was officially introduced as the Falcons' new head coach Monday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. 

ATLANTA — Raheem Morris has officially been welcomed back to the Atlanta Falcons family.

He shook hands. He took headshots. He did an intimate on-camera interview, a local radio show and a full-house press conference. He met with basically anyone employed by the Blank Family of Businesses who was at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for work on Monday.

And Morris did it all with a smile on his face.

When it came to the press conference itself, the new head coach was sandwiched between team president Greg Beadles and general manager Terry Fontenot. Owner Arthur Blank could not make it due to a medical reason.

The question-and-answer portion lasted one hour and three minutes.

Below are five key takeaways from Morris' introductory press conference.

Family first

The first thing Morris wanted to address once handed the mic on Monday was his family. He thanked the immediate and extended members who were in attendance of the press conference, seated off to his left.

Atlanta isn't just Morris' home now. It's all of theirs.

Morris was supported by not only his wife, Nicole, and three children — Amaya, Maliya and Jalen — but also his parents, in-laws, agents and friends. Suffice to say, it was a full house.

"We could have had so many more," Morris said. "I didn't want to make this about me. I wanted to make this more about us. I joke around a lot and say, 'This is my press conference.' But really, this is our press conference. This is for us to go out there and present our best self, show which direction were heading in together."

It quite literally is a cross-country move from Los Angeles to Atlanta for the Morris family, but at least Atlanta is familiar to the family. The two youngest Morris kids were actually born in Georgia.

That shouldn't come as a surprise since this is Morris' second go-around with the Falcons. He was in Atlanta from 2015-20. He got his start as the assistant head coach/defensive pass-game coordinator and closed out that six-year stint as the interim head coach for the final 11 games of 2020.

"This is coming home," Morris said. "When you get a chance to go back home in this profession, it is extremely important and it is extremely critical to everybody involved. That is a special moment, not just for me, but for my family, for everybody involved, for the media members I see around that I know. … I don't know if you've ever been in this spot to come back home, but this is certainly the best feeling in the world."

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)

Organizational chart

Present: Fontenot and Morris are partners when it comes to deciding what is best for the Falcons. Together, they report to Blank.

Past: Fontenot and former head coach Arthur Smith were partners when it came to deciding what was best for the Falcons. Together, they reported to Rich McKay who reported to Blank.

Spot the difference. It was made clear in the Falcons' press release upon Morris' hiring.

McKay is still the CEO of AMB Sports and Entertainment and will continue to represent the Falcons on league matters and the NFL's Competition Committee. But he will no longer be the person the general manager and head coach directly report to.

"It's real valuable having (McKay's) experience around, and even though he's going to be in some other areas, you appreciate having that around," Fontenot said. "I lost my dad last year. My dad never worked in a front office. He never sat in a GM seat. But I appreciated all those conversations with him because they're life experiences. So, having experienced people around you that you can lean on and communicate with is really important. You value that.

"That said, the decision making was always myself and Arthur Smith, at the time. Moving forward, the decision making is myself and Raheem. We keep everyone informed, and that's important."

Beadles, meanwhile, kept his title of Falcons team president and has the responsibility of overseeing all day-to-day business operations.

That means, Fontenot and Morris will collaborate with Beadles, but Beadles is not the duo's direct report or vice versa.

"The way Greg went from being an intern to becoming the president, that's a pretty cool story," Fontenot said. "He knows every part of the building. He's helped me learn about the business part and some of the nuances that I don't understand in the other areas of the business. It's been great working with Greg. He's the type of person that whatever we need, he's going to figure out a way to get it done. That's who he is."


Quarterback plan

It didn't take long for the conversation to quickly turn to the quarterback, a position that clearly became an offseason need when the 2023 season ended. Simply put, neither Desmond Ridder or Taylor Heinicke are the starting answer moving forward. The Falcons must find a new QB1 for 2024.

Morris knows that, and the idea of having a clear slate at that particular spot on the depth chart is exciting for him. At the same time, though, that is not his immediate priority, because in his mind, it's not fully up to him. He wants the decision to ultimately be a collaborative effort once his coaching staff is finalized and settled.

"We've had very limited conversations about it right now," Morris said. "The reason being, we've got to formulate a great staff. We've collaborated more on building this staff, and we're almost done. We've got a lot of people in place, and we want to get people there. We've had some (quarterback) conversations in brief passing, and we have some ways that we know we can go about getting it — obviously free agency, obviously trade, obviously draft. Those communications, from me just landing the other day, are going to continue to happen."

Free agency opens March 13. Trades can happen at any point after that. The NFL Draft is then scheduled for April 25-27.

As Tori McElhaney writes in her analysis: The clock starts now to find the Falcons' 2024 starting quarterback.

Or at least once the staff is finalized.

"We got a real good vision," Morris said. "Obviously it'll be a shared vision between myself, Terry and our coaching staff, a lot of our scouting staff and the people that we're going involve in that whole process. But we've got a real clear understanding of what it looks like in Atlanta."

Coordinator confidence

Speaking of Morris' coaching staff, it has indeed been taking shape over the past week or so. On Jan. 29, the Falcons announced Zac Robinson as the offensive coordinator, Jimmy Lake as the defensive coordinator and Marquise Williams as the special teams coordinator. Since then, hiring of assistant coaches has trickled in at a rather constant pace.

Morris spoke most about Robinson, who was the Los Angeles Rams pass-game coordinator/quarterbacks coach in 2023.

"Robinson -- in my head, from my experience -- made a lot of sense," Morris said. "I was around the young Kyle Shanahan, and I saw him really develop and grow into this great play-caller that we know who's playing next week. I was around Sean McVay when he was young, really young. ... I watched him grow and develop into this great play-caller that we know. … I see Zac Robinson, and I see him in the same light. I see him growing. I see him developing. I see him bringing this timing and rhythm and balance to our offense.

"Whatever it looks like, it's going to be fast."

When it came to Lake, Morris really liked how Lake worked his way through the college ranks, going from secondary coach to defensive coordinator to head coach at the University of Washington from 2014-21. He only recently joined the NFL in 2023 as the Rams assistant head coach.

When asked who would be calling plays for the defense since Morris has spent the last three seasons as a defensive play-caller himself, the head coach said he'd like to have Lake call plays, which he has experience doing at the college level.

"Personally, I want Lake to get out there and be able to be in front calling the plays and me be on both sides of the ball, so I can really be involved in how we handle situations, how we go about our game, managing those type of things," Morris said. "Just so you can be the entirety of the head coach. You can control a football team the way you want to control it. … But I really have a lot of confidence in those two men calling the game."

Williams was retained because Morris trusted those who originally hired him in 2021. That, and Williams has been successful in his role.

"I thought that it was really important for me to be around the right people," Morris said. "This is a people business. I'm just talking about my coordinators right now with specifics, but I was really excited to be able to bring those guys in as part of the Atlanta Falcons family."

Bigger picture

To end this recap on what could and should be considered the most important note, Morris made sure to recognize and appreciate the fact he is the first full-time Black head coach in Falcons history. The acknowledgement was initially unprompted and then later questioned again. Both times, Morris was proud of this detail, especially with his son in the audience.

"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. I understand the 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 the city, particularly where we are right now in the mecca of Black history."

Zooming out to the NFL as a whole, Morris is one of four minority head coaches who have been hired this offseason. The others are Jerod Mayo (New England Patriots), Antonio Pierce (Las Vegas Raiders) and Dave Canales (Carolina Panthers). That brings the count for the 2024 season to nine, which marks the most in league history.

There were five minority head coaches in 2023: Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh Steelers), Todd Bowles (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and DeMeco Ryans (Houston Texans), Mike McDaniel (Miami Dolphins) and Robert Saleh (New York Jets).

"That is not about me," Morris said. "That is the progress. That is the movement. That is what we look for."

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