Just days from calling plays on defense for the Rams in Super Bowl 56 against the Bengals, Raheem Morris laughed at the suggestion that he has reason to be frustrated that a decade has passed since he was fired as Bucs head coach — with no second chance to be had.
“Have you ever met me?” said Morris, laughing.
Although perpetually upbeat, Morris may have the biggest reason to complain about the lack of minority head coaches being hired in the NFL these days.
Case in point: Josh McDaniels became Broncos coach in 2009, going 11-17 in two seasons in Denver. He has been hired twice as a head coach since. The first time, he accepted the Colts job in 2018 and reneged to remain with the Patriots as offensive coordinator. A couple weeks ago, he was hired by the Raiders.
Morris was hired to coach the Bucs the same year McDaniels got his first opportunity. After a disastrous 3-13 start, Morris went 10-6 and had the Bucs at 4-2 with division wins over Atlanta and New Orleans before the team went to England to play the Bears. The Bucs lost Earnest Graham to a torn Achilles and Morris never won another game.
In the league’s more than 100 years of existence, 24 of 32 franchises have either had one black head coach or none. Currently, the NFL has three black head coaches, with two hired after former Dolphins coach Brian Flores filed a lawsuit against the NFL alleging racial discrimination in their hiring practices.
Morris was only 32 when the Bucs selected him to take over a team they planned to gut of veterans after firing Jon Gruden. In three seasons, the only significant free agent general manager Mark Dominik signed was a punter. He did trade for troubled tight end Kellen Winslow Jr.
Since his time in Tampa Bay, Morris has done everything to bolster his experience and resume to the point where any team should be knocking down doors to hire him.
Morris continued to coach defense in places such as Washington, Atlanta and Los Angeles. He coached offense with the Falcons as thier passing game coordinator and became their interim head coach following the firing of Dan Quinn midway through the 2020 season, going 4-7.
What did that earn him?
The Falcons interviewed him before hiring Arthur Smith. The Jaguars did the same in 2020 but hired Urban Meyer. Morris met twice with the Vikings last month but the job was already earmarked for his former Rams colleague, offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell.
Morris was single and younger than Ronde Barber when he took over the Bucs. Now he is 45 and married with three children.
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The NFL hasn’t grown with Morris when it comes to giving black assistants a chance to become head coaches.
Even so, Morris isn’t complaining or campaigning. He just keeps going to work.
“I think we forget sometimes it’s a privilege to coach in the National Football League,” Morris said. “I was very privileged to have an opportunity when I was 32 years old thanks to the Glazers and what they were able to do and what they were able to see in me as far as leadership.
“Was I ready? Obviously not when you get fired after only three years and go 10-6 and only have that one successful season and start off 4-2 and then have a small collapse on your team. And I didn’t have enough consistency to be able to keep that thing and hold it together. ...
“Having the ability to bounce around, go to different spots and really be a part of two Super Bowls since then, I believe you just grow, and you get better every single day. And my job, in my role, I absolutely embrace wherever I go. I have to. I absolutely have so much fun being in my space, being where my feet are. Being grounded.”
Morris’ feet will be firmly planted on the Rams sideline Sunday, trying to put players such as Aaron Donald, Von Miller, Leonard Floyd and Jalen Ramsey in the best position to stop Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow at SoFi Stadium.
Is this Rams defensive front the best he’s ever coached?
“It’s always a risky subject to say this is the best of anything you’ve coached because of the guys that come before those guys,” Morris said. “I don’t want to be disrespectful to some of the greats. Warren Sapp was in a position group on a team that I coached along with Simeon Rice, Greg Spires, Anthony McFarland ... that was a phenomenal front and it was one of those fronts that won a Super Bowl in 2002 that I was fortunate to be a part of. You never really want to compare.
“But when you’re talking about Aaron Donald, who is a legendary player in this game. When you’re talking about Von Miller, who is a legendary player in this game. When you’re talking about Flo, who is working himself up into being a legendary-like, who knows what he can become or do.”
Biding his time
Morris said he was meant to be a coach from the time his days as a defensive back ended at Hofstra, which no longer has a football program. Quinn coached there, as did Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods.
“It was a big-time disappointment for me not having an opportunity to get invited to an (NFL) camp and do those types of things,” Morris said. “Then right away, the opportunity to coach fell upon me. It was right there at Hofstra with my guys, doing things with coach (Joe) Gardi.”
Morris was the Bucs assistant defensive backs coach behind Mike Tomlin in 2007-08. After a one-year stint as defensive coordinator at Kansas State, Morris eventually replaced Tomlin on Jon Gruden’s Bucs staff when Tomlin was hired as Steelers head coach.
Gruden named Morris the defensive coordinator in waiting on Christmas Eve 2008. But before ever serving one game in that position, the Bucs made him head coach.
After Tampa Bay, Morris joined Mike Shanahan’s Washington staff coaching defensive backs. He forged a close relationship with Kyle Shanahan, the offensive coordinator and was introduced to current Rams coach Sean McVay.
There wasn’t anything Morris didn’t do in Atlanta. He coached receivers, was the passing game coordinator, defensive coordinator and ultimately interim head coach. Quinn instilled even more principles of communication.
Morris got overlooked again this hiring season. But he knows he’ll get another chance.
“I’ve been able to learn from so many people,” he said. “...Coming here (to Los Angeles) and seeing what (McVay’s) and (Rams general manager) Les Snead’s relationship is like and going through the problems and seeing what we do and how we do it, going all in and not being afraid of failure. ... those are all the things that get you ready for those moments.
“And when that moment comes again, I will be ready. And when it comes, I will embrace it. And when I’m able to embrace it, I will have success. And if I don’t have success, I will do it all over again until I do.”