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MAQB: Raheem Morris Primed to Be Hired in Next Head Coaching Cycle

The Rams defensive coordinator checks a lot of boxes in what teams look for in head coaches. Plus, the unclear future of the NFL combine, Jacksonville’s interesting choice to make with Travis Etienne, and more.

Seven days til combine …

Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris speaks during Super Bowl LVI championship rally; Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert looks on before the game against the Detroit Lions; Jacksonville Jaguars running back Travis Etienne (1) participates in training camp.

• It’s hard to imagine Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris won’t be atop a lot of head-coaching lists in 2023, and I can say this much now—Sean McVay and others in Los Angeles were pretty stunned that he didn’t get more traction in the coaching carousel this time around. And that’s mostly because Morris has so much of what teams are looking for, even bringing some offensive background to the table from his time in Atlanta.

“I just think it speaks for itself,” McVay told me. “I mean, if you're looking for a great leader, a great motivator, a great person to be able to inspire and be able to help guys reach their highest potential, bring people together, who also has a great feel for the schematics of the game, Raheem Morris is your guy.”

And that was after McVay and I got done going through what he did for the Rams on Super Bowl Sunday, which we detailed in the MMQB this morning.

“On the last drive, he was trusting his gut,” McVay said. “You end up sending five guys and they obviously hit [Ja’Marr] Chase and then they hit [Tyler] Boyd. I just think his trust and his calm in those moments, the poise showed. And then to be able to have Aaron [Donald] make the third-down stop, then make another critical call on fourth down that ultimately ends up winning the Super Bowl, I think at the most pressure-filled moments is when he was at his calmest and clearest.

“I think that's as good as anything you could say in the midst of a game about a coach.”

So, yeah, Morris is right on the cusp of his second chance.

• One other thing from Morris I found interesting was the lesson he took from being on the Falcons staff as assistant head coach in 2016 for the Super Bowl LI collapse against the Patriots. Morris told me he absorbed a pretty valuable takeaway, one that served him well in getting his guys ready to go.

“There’s no doubt about it, in those moments, people tend to get tight. And we got tight in Atlanta,” he said. “We lost that game. We got tight all across the board, whether you wanna say it was on defense, whether you say it was offense, or special teams, we didn’t have the ability to close that game out. I didn’t want these guys to get tight. So when Aaron jumped off that bench, I knew that wasn’t a tight moment—that was a moment where he was ready to just go out there and thrive in the adversity, and go win this football game.

”I don’t think anybody got tight when they took the lead. I don’t think anybody got tight when they got the big play coming out of halftime, right into the interception. Everybody stayed the course. That even keel, that steady feel, credit has to go to Sean McVay and how the team is run. But it definitely was a lesson learned for me going into this game. You wanted to stay the course, and let these guys go out and win the football game.”

Interestingly enough, Morris’s stay-loose message dovetailed nicely with McVay’s lessons from his own Super Bowl loss to New England—a game McVay felt like he overprepared for. Both guys, in the end, resolved to try and treat the Super Bowl as a normal game as much as they could, and that obviously worked.

• One last note on the Rams—the hires the team made on Monday, bringing in Kentucky OC Liam Coen to replace Kevin O’Connell as offensive coordinator, and ex-Raiders OC Greg Olson to fill an as-of-yet undefined role on the staff, are strikes at stability. Bottom line, L.A. has had a lot of staff turnover as a result of its success the last few years, and I don’t think it’s a small thing that Olson was on McVay’s first Rams staff, or that Coen spent three years with the team before going to Lexington last year to call plays.

The Rams are down to just four assistants who’ve been around since 2017: outside linebackers coach Chris Shula, receivers coach Eric Yarber, offensive assistant Zak Kromer, and assistant linebackers coach Thad Bogardus.

Also, assistant head coach Thomas Brown will have an expanded role both on offense and with the team, with the belief that he’s another future head coach on a staff that’s becoming a breeding ground for those.

• Very smart approach by the agents that organized to strike back against COVID-fueled combine restrictions—saying that they’d advise their clients to go to Indy, but only to do medicals, interviews, and other non-workout activities. For one, it’s logical, given that the infrastructure the players want on site, and would be prohibited from getting if there is a bubble, and really would only affect the performance testing portion of the event. And two, it hits the NFL where it hurts, right in the wallet.

It's no secret that the league’s primary interest in the combine itself is to build it into a bigger event and monetize the crap out of it. But without the workouts—the only part of the event that’s actually televised—there’s nothing to monetize.

Which is why it worked.

Meanwhile, the damage may already be done for the league here. The reason for not wanting to test under the bubble circumstance is, again, the inability to have the nutritionists, strength coaches, speed coaches, massage therapists and trainers that have worked with these kids for the last two months with them to ramp them up for the actual workouts. And now? Well, the idea that just working out at pro day, in a more comfortable environment, has sure gone through a lot of the elite kids’ heads.

If more wind up sitting out workouts next week, it may be difficult for the NFL to put that genie back in the bottle in future years.

• New Vikings offensive coordinator Wes Phillips is a really interesting early hire for O’Connell in Minnesota. The son of former NFL coach and coordinator Wade Phillips, Wes played quarterback and coached the position early on in his career at the college level. But since landing in the NFL on his dad’s first staff in Dallas, he’s been mostly involved in coaching along the line of scrimmage, first as an offensive line coach, then as a tight ends coach, before McVay made him the Rams pass-game coordinator this year.

So Phillips’s experience in the run game over 15 seasons as an NFL assistant should complement O’Connell’s pass-game expertise nicely, and his diversity in experience should be valuable across the board to his players.

• Seeing Paxton Lynch’s name on Monday—he was cut by the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders—was a pretty good reminder of a couple things. One, it shows how quickly guys can slip through the cracks, and even those who are highly-touted. Two, it illustrates how the right breaks can come into play for a team, in that the Cowboys were trying to trade up for Lynch in 2016, before settling for Dak Prescott in the fourth round instead. And three, it’s an example of how hard guys try to hang on to their dream.

I’m sure this was a rough day for him, but good on Lynch for not giving up on his.

• Here’s what Steelers GM Kevin Colbert had to say about his impending post-draft departure: “It’s something my family and I have discussed really over the last few years, and that’s why we’ve been asking to do the year-to-year contracts. It’s time from a personal standpoint and I think it’s time from a professional standpoint. We always have to be open to new ways to do things and more current ways. I encourage my younger scouts to push me in that regard. The better solution might be outside the organization. We have to be open to try to stay ahead of the game.”

That confirms what was widely known in the NFL, that Colbert’s been ruminating on this for a while—many believed his future was going to be tied to Ben Roethlisberger’s, and things happened to play out that way. It’s also interesting to hear Colbert talk openly about the team going outside the organization to find his successor.

There’d been a perception that chief negotiator Omar Khan, pro scouting director Brandon Hunt, or a combination of the two would be in line to take Colbert’s duties when he moved on. But it’s pretty important to remember that Colbert himself was an outside hire—he came from the Lions to replace Tom Donahoe in 2000—as were all three of the team’s modern-era coaching hires (Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher, Mike Tomlin).

• Antonio Brown appears to be testing the limits on just how far he can go before his welcome to play pro football is completely worn out.


• Hearing from Travis Etienne discuss his rehab—he told The Players Club Podcast that he’s around 80-85% through his rehab after foot surgery—was a good reminder that the Jags will have an interesting decision to make with their 2021 first-round pick next year. Ex-Jacksonville coach Urban Meyer planned to convert the former Clemson tailback into a Percy Harvin-type of hybrid (at a position called the “H” in Meyer’s college offense).

Truth is, it was actually a forward-thinking thought from Meyer, in taking an explosive skill player, and using him all over the field, and an idea that 49ers used with Deebo Samuel, just sort of in a reverse way (Samuel, of course, was a receiver they’d line up at tailback).

So I’ll be interested to see if Doug Pederson decides to build that kind of role for Etienne, who’s certainly capable of carrying it out. Having James Robinson as a bellcow type of back on the roster should afford Pederson the flexibility to do it, if he so desires.

• I always think it’s a good thing to hear about players getting to go out on their own terms, and at a relatively young age. So as much as I like watching Aaron Donald play, it’s a positive development for all players that he feels free to make his own choice, like Calvin Johnson and Patrick Willis did a few years back. And it’s good to see Ricardo Allen go through with a similar call.

Why is it a good development for all players? To me, it’s indicative of three things …

  1. Players are more cognizant now of the toll football takes on their bodies, and the effect it can have on their ability to live normal lives after they’re done playing.

  2. Players are getting paid more, and taking better care of their money, creating the financial flexibility to make such decisions.

  3. Players are working more aggressively to set up their post-football careers, so the fear of what’s coming next for guys isn’t nearly as pronounced as it used to be.

So yeah, I want to see Donald keep playing. But I’m also glad that he’s got all the information and resources he needs to make the right decision for himself.

More NFL Coverage:

Very Few Players Should Ever Attend the NFL Combine
• MMQB: Raheem Morris on the Five Defensive Plays That Won the Super Bowl
• GamePlan: What Trends From the 2021 Season Will Continue?
Matthew Stafford Rewrote His Story With a Super Bowl Season