Raheem Morris seeks a Super Bowl title for Atlanta after loss 7 years ago that still 'stings'

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ATLANTA (AP) — Raheem Morris wants to make the most of his second opportunity as the Atlanta Falcons' coach.

That means helping the Falcons achieve something they couldn't during what he called the most painful loss of his career.

Morris was named Atlanta's coach on Jan. 25. His first news conference on Monday came on the seventh anniversary of the Falcons blowing a 28-3 lead and losing the Super Bowl 34-28 to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots when Morris was an Atlanta assistant.

Morris brought up the Super Bowl loss and said he will be motivated to bring Atlanta its first championship. He was an assistant with the Falcons from 2015-20 and their interim head coach in 2020, and he said the lingering pain from that game is “a part of coming home.”

“That 2016 loss, it stings as bad as any one I’ve ever had,” Morris said before adding “actually the worst I’ve ever had.”

Morris — who won a Super Bowl after the 2021 season as the Los Angeles Rams' defensive coordinator — said he is motivated “to come back here and get some real cool redemption” for the Falcons and their owner, Arthur Blank. “I want to watch Arthur Blank and Warrick Dunn hold up the trophy.”

Dunn, a former Falcons running back, owns a minority share in the team. Blank, 81, did not attend the news conference due to a “minor medical” issue, according to Brett Jewkes, vice president and chief communications officer for Blank's family businesses. Jewkes said Blank was resting and “doing very well.”

Former Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who earned one of his record six Super Bowl wins at the Falcons' expense, had two interviews with Atlanta and was considered by many to be the favorite before Morris was hired.

“I've got so much respect for what he’s done in his career,” Morris said of Belichick. “I would never, ever feel slighted ... for what people would feel about coach Belichick, right?”

Team president Greg Beadles said Belichick “was obviously a serious candidate. You can’t have anything but ultimate respect for what he’s done in his career.” Beadles said the choice of Morris “was unanimous” among Blank and others involved in the team's extensive search.

Blank and general manager Terry Fontenot interviewed 14 candidates. Among them were former Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, who was hired by the Los Angeles Chargers, and former Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel.

Morris was 4-7 as Atlanta's interim coach in 2020, leaving his career record at 21-38, including three seasons with Tampa Bay. Morris also was interviewed after the 2020 season, when Arthur Smith ultimately got the job.

Smith was fired hours after the completion of his third consecutive 7-10 season. He was subsequently hired as the Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive coordinator.

When the Falcons held a news conference last month to discuss Smith's firing, Blank and CEO Rich McKay were the only team representatives who spoke. When Morris was hired, the team also announced McKay will no longer have a say in football-related matters. He remains the CEO of Blank's family businesses and will now assume a lead role with Atlanta United of Major League Soccer, also owned by Blank.

On Monday, Beadles filled in for Blank, joining Morris and Fontenot at the lectern. McKay was in the audience and was not made available for interviews.

As evidence of the team's remodeled power structure, Fontenot said he was given authority to lead the coaching search while Blank had the final vote.

Morris is the first non-interim Black coach in Falcons history. Morris and Fontenot, who also is Black, will report to Blank.

The 47-year-old Morris had his wife, children and parents in the audience.

“I do understand the importance of being the first Black coach in Atlanta history without an interim tag,” Morris said. “The coolest thing about this whole process was it wasn’t even brought up.”

Morris is bringing offensive coordinator Zac Robinson and defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake from the Rams' staff and is retaining special teams coach Marquice Williams from the Atlanta staff. Morris said Robinson and Lake will call plays.

Morris said he and Fontenot have had “a very limited conversation” about Atlanta's future at quarterback after Smith rotated Desmond Ridder and Taylor Heinicke in the 2023 season.

When asked what he likes about the Falcons' offense, Morris did not hesitate before naming the team's last two first-round draft picks. “That’s easy. Drake London. Bijan Robinson,” Morris said, referring to the wide receiver and running back, respectively, without mentioning any other player.

Fontenot credited Smith with helping build the roster, which he said is “in a lot different place” as the Falcons seek their first championship with a new coach.

“He’s got two rings,” Fontenot said of Morris, who also won a Super Bowl as a Tampa Bay assistant. “We’re going to get him another.”

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