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Why Raheem Morris Might Be the Perfect Candidate for the Vikings' Head Coach Vacancy

Morris has experience coaching on both sides of the ball and is a phenomenal leader.

The Vikings kicked off wild card weekend with seven interview requests for head coach candidates, a big step in the process of finding Mike Zimmer's replacement. Filed on Saturday morning, the requests included up-and-coming offensive minds like Kellen Moore and Kevin O'Connell, as well as retread defensive coaches like Dan Quinn and Todd Bowles. It was a solid list.

Then, three days later, they requested an interview with an eighth candidate, one who might have instantly become the best of the lot: Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris. 

It took a dominant performance by his defense against Kyler Murray and the Cardinals on Monday night for Morris to land his first interview of this cycle. He's not a heavily sought-after name like Moore, Quinn, or Nathaniel Hackett. But the more you read about Morris and dive into his résumé, the more you find things to like. His diverse coaching background, previous head coaching experience, and ability to connect with players make him a very strong candidate for the Vikings' vacancy — perhaps the strongest of the eight currently on their list.

Ahead of Morris's interview with the Vikings on Friday and his battle with Tom Brady, Byron Leftwich, and the Buccaneers in the divisional round on Sunday, let's take a look at why Morris might be the ideal person to become the 10th head coach in Minnesota Vikings history.

Background

  • Age: 45
  • College: Hofstra
  • NFL head coaching experience: Buccaneers 2009-11, Falcons 2020 (interim)
  • NFL head coaching record: 21-38
  • All NFL coaching stops: Tampa Bay, Washington, Atlanta, LA Rams

Five years after his college playing days ended, Morris got his first NFL gig as a defensive quality control coach for the Buccaneers in 2002. They went on to win the Super Bowl that year. He spent five of the next six seasons as an assistant coach in Tampa, with one year as Kansas State's defensive coordinator in the middle. While in Tampa, he worked with and learned from coaches like Monte Kiffin, Rod Marinelli, and especially Mike Tomlin.

In 2009, in order to keep Morris from being hired away by the Broncos, the Buccaneers fired Jon Gruden and made Morris their head coach. He was just 32 years old, making him the second-youngest head coach in the Super Bowl era (since 1970) at that time. He had never even been a coordinator. Morris has since admitted that he wasn't ready for the job at that age. He managed a 10-6 season with Josh Freeman at quarterback in 2010, but that was sandwiched between 3-13 and 4-12 campaigns. Morris was fired after the 2011 season with a 17-31 record in three years.

Less than ten days after he was fired, Morris was hired by Mike Shanahan to be Washington's defensive backs coach. During his time in Washington, he was on the same coaching staff as Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay, Matt LaFleur, and Mike McDaniel. In 2015, Morris — and everyone I just mentioned other than McVay — went to Atlanta to join Quinn's staff.

Morris wound up taking over as the interim coach of an 0-5 Falcons team when Quinn was fired in 2020, and his first game was a 40-23 win over the Vikings in Minneapolis. He led the Falcons to wins in four of his first six games before ending the season on a five-game losing streak, giving him a 4-7 record on the season. But five of those seven losses came against the Saints, Buccaneers, and Chiefs, and five of them came by margins of five points or fewer.

Morris then spent this season as the defensive coordinator of the Rams under McVay, replacing Brandon Staley. The Rams are fifth in defensive DVOA, sixth in opponent EPA per play, and are one of the final eight teams in the hunt for a Lombardi Trophy.

So yes, Morris has a career record of 21-38 as a head coach. But context is extremely important when considering those numbers. In Tampa, he was young, forced to work with coordinators he didn't choose, and had no say over a roster that purged veteran talent and went extremely young. In Atlanta, he was thrust in as the interim coach of a team with major deficiencies on defense and the offensive line.

Experience on both sides of the ball

One of the things that makes Morris such an intriguing candidate in my eyes is his unique coaching background, with experience on both sides of the ball. He's not your typical defensive coordinator.

When Morris was in Washington with Shanahan, McVay, and LaFleur, he sat in on offensive meetings and spent tons of time talking football with those guys. From Dan Pompei's excellent 2020 profile of Morris in The Athletic:

Morris has something few head coaching candidates have — expertise on offense and defense.

When Washington drafted Robert Griffin III in 2012, Mike Shanahan held a series of meetings with his offensive coaches to explore ways to use him. He invited Morris to those meetings, too.

Shanahan encouraged the coaches to spend time with one another because having knowledge about the opposite phase gave all of them advantages. Among the other young coaches on the staff Morris was drawn to were Kyle Shanahan, Matt LaFleur and Sean McVay.

“We would sit around and argue football 24/7,” Morris says. “It gave me a better understanding of what we want to do and how to do it on offense. It was a great learning experience.”

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Then, when Morris followed Shanahan and LaFleur to Atlanta, he got his first chance to actually coach on the offensive side. After a year as the DBs coach, Morris was hired as the Falcons' wide receivers coach and assistant head coach. Never having coached offense before, he dove into research to prepare himself, studying tapes of Shanahan's meetings with Matt Ryan and peppering guys like LaFleur and McDaniel with questions.

Once Morris started coaching Julio Jones and company, he coached them like they had never been coached, teaching them from the standpoint of how a defensive player or coach would try to contain them.

“He had a huge impact on what we did on that 2016 offense even though his No. 1 skill set was as a defensive coordinator,” Kyle Shanahan says.

As a reminder, that team went to the Super Bowl and would've won it if not for perhaps the most famous collapse in NFL history.

Morris got 'passing game coordinator' added to his title when Shanahan left in 2017, after Quinn blocked Shanahan from hiring Morris to his new staff in San Francisco. For the next three seasons, he coached receivers and coordinated the passing attack. Then he switched back to the defensive side in 2020.

Morris is a defensive coordinator right now, but as a head coach candidate, he isn't another Zimmer. He knows defense and offense and uses his knowledge of one to complement the other in how he coaches players. 

“He has redeveloped himself as an offensive coach,” Tomlin said in Pompei's story. “Over the course of his career he’s displayed the ability to learn in great detail the 22-man perspective on the game. … Everybody can’t switch hit, and he does it very fluently.”

Leadership and communication

Mark Wilf made it very clear that the Vikings are looking for strong leaders, communicators, and collaborators in their next head coach and general manager. Morris fits that criteria and then some. Everywhere he's been, coaches and players rave about his leadership and ability to connect with people of various backgrounds.

When he was in Tampa, Morris may have gone too far with that. He was the same age as some of his players and less than ten years older than almost all of them, and could relate to them because of common interests and similar backgrounds. Morris played pick-up basketball with his players. They hung out outside of the facility, which drew criticism when the team was losing. Morris just thought it was another way to communicate with players and get them to play hard for him, but later realized there were better ways to do that.

Over a decade later, Morris has a much different perspective gained from everything he's experienced over 20 years in the NFL. The young, single coach is now in his mid-40s and married with multiple children.

“Maturity-wise, I’ve seen him grow tenfold,” Ronde Barber told Pompei. “He doesn’t have to be the loudest and the guy who stays up all night and spends the most money at the bar. He’s grown out of that phase of his life. … Being married with three kids, he’s grown up a lot as an individual, and it’s probably reflected in his coaching."

The wiser, more mature Morris can still connect with players at a high level and motivate them to give him everything they have. They've only worked together for a year, but Jalen Ramsey recently called Morris the best coach he's ever had.

Morris brings energy and enthusiasm to the table. There would be no toxic culture under his leadership. He's open to using analytics in decision-making and understands that being a head coach is like being a CEO. He knows both sides of the ball, has coached in various schemes and systems, and has learned from some of the brightest minds in the league.

He's ready for another shot to lead a team, and he might just be the perfect candidate for the Vikings' head coaching vacancy.

Thanks for reading. Make sure to bookmark this site and check back daily for the latest Vikings news and analysis all offseason long. Also, follow me on Twitter and feel free to ask me any questions on there.