Thursday’s news — defensive coordinator Raheem Morris is expected to become the Atlanta Falcons’ new head coach — drew mixed emotions from the Los Angeles Rams.
Coaches, including head coach Sean McVay, who hired Morris (one of his best friends) in 2021, players and executives are thrilled for Morris’ opportunity. At the same time, many I spoke with also expressed sadness to lose Morris, who helped the Rams win a Super Bowl and whose leadership in the building often put him in a co-head-coaching role of sorts alongside McVay.
The logistics come next. McVay will need to hire Morris’ replacement, and that coach will have a significant say on another vacancy on the defensive side — defensive line coach Eric Henderson left for USC earlier this month.
The Rams will get third-round compensatory picks in 2024 and 2025 for the Falcons hiring Morris
— Jonathan Jones (@jjones9) January 25, 2024
Los Angeles will have to keep an eye on its offense, too. Quarterbacks coach Zac Robinson is one candidate to join Morris as his offensive coordinator in Atlanta among other candidates for that job, a league source said. Internal possibilities to replace Robinson, who has been interviewing for various offensive coordinator jobs across the NFL over the last two weeks, could include pass game coordinator Jake Peetz, tight ends coach Nick Caley (if he doesn’t get an offensive coordinator job and McVay wants to move him from his previous position) or offensive assistant K.J. Black. External candidates could include Atlanta’s Dave Ragone, if he doesn’t stay on Morris’ staff and instead becomes a “free agent.” McVay and Ragone know each other well from their time together in Washington.
Here are 12 possible internal and external candidates to replace Morris:
• Defensive backs coach/pass game coordinator Aubrey Pleasant
Pleasant coached the Rams’ secondary from 2017 to 2020, then again in 2023. His teaching efforts with a largely young and undermanned group this season were often lauded by McVay and other coaches. Pleasant could also be a candidate to join Morris’ Falcons staff.
• Linebackers coach Chris Shula
Shula has been a McVay assistant for as long as McVay has been a head coach (2017). He has moved between coaching inside and outside linebackers, with a brief stint in 2022 as one of the Rams’ defensive backs coaches.
• Assistant head coach Jimmy Lake
Lake, a Morris hire to the Rams’ staff last year, could join his staff. His collegiate and NFL experience as a defensive coach and his role working on both sides of the ball in 2023 also make him a candidate for an internal promotion to defensive coordinator.
• Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero
The Panthers reportedly blocked Evero from interviewing laterally for another defensive coordinator position in this cycle, indicating they wanted to keep him as they opened up the hiring process for their own head coach. That would imply both ownership and new general manager Dan Morgan wanted to pair Evero with an offense-minded head coach (Dave Canales). Still, it’s logical the Rams would at least try to request an interview with Evero, a defensive coach for them from 2017 to 2021, and he would be a very strong candidate for the position. Evero has also had head-coaching interviews in this cycle.
Another former Rams coach, Jonathan Cooley, is coaching the secondary under Evero in Carolina.
Dave Canales’ work with QBs the last few years was important to a franchise that has to get Bryce Young turned around. By hiring an offensive-minded coach, the Panthers hope to keep their defensive staff mostly intact after CAR finished top 5 in total D in ’23.
— Joe Person (@josephperson) January 25, 2024
• Brandon Staley
It is logical McVay would at the very least give Staley a call and talk through ideas and options. Staley was the Rams’ defensive coordinator in 2020, when the unit led the league in limiting explosive plays and scoring. Staley was hired that spring as the Los Angeles Chargers head coach, where his defensive groups did not see similar success. He was fired during the 2023 season.
• Baltimore Ravens assistant head coach/defensive line coach Anthony Weaver
If lauded Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald gets a head-coaching job, he could take Weaver with him as his defensive coordinator. Weaver’s background as a player and coach makes him a good fit for a still-growing defense with big shoes to fill on the defensive line, where his experience would be relevant.
Schematically, the Ravens defense deploys a lot of modern coverage concepts, post-snap rotations and simulated pressure looks. It is easy to see McVay’s pull to that, though a shift from the current scheme McVay pushed to install back in 2020.
• Wink Martindale
Martindale would be a logical coach to consider and call though a surprising hire for McVay, who has largely avoided blitz-heavy defensive schemes. He spoke highly of the former Giants and Ravens defensive coordinator this season before facing him in Week 17.
• Dallas Cowboys secondary coach Al Harris
Harris’ defensive backs play with a smart, aggressive style and are second in the NFL with 69 interceptions since he took over the group in 2020.
• Denver Broncos defensive backs coach Christian Parker
Parker was one of the few holdovers retained by Evero when he was the defensive coordinator of the Broncos, and then again when current defensive coordinator Vance Joseph took over. His youth (he’s just 32) makes him a little bit of a wild card, but McVay has not been averse to hiring young coaches in his coordinator positions.
• Baltimore Ravens linebackers coach Zach Orr
Orr is another young coach (he’s just 31), but he’d be coming from an elite defensive ecosystem and is also a former player.
• Buffalo Bills linebackers coach Bobby Babich
Babich has been a defensive assistant in Buffalo since 2017, coaching safeties and linebackers. He has reportedly received an interview request for the defensive coordinator vacancy with the New York Giants.
• Cincinnati Bengals seconday/safeties coach Robert Livingston
Livingston, a nine-year defensive coach for the Bengals and a former scout, has spent the last five years training under respected defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo (who has an admirer in McVay).
Former Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel should be added to this list, too, although he’s not in a bullet point because it’s unclear whether he would take a defensive coordinator job after he was a head coach (similarly why Bill Belichick isn’t included in a bullet point, though McVay deeply admires the former longtime New England coach).
(Top photo of Sean McVay: Kevin Sabitus / Getty Images)