While for a moment it seemed that Raheem Morris would maybe find himself outside of the 2024 head coaching hiring cycle, it shouldn’t come as a surprise for the Los Angeles Rams that he found a seat in one of the musical chairs this year. The Atlanta Falcons announced Thursday afternoon that Morris was their choice at head coach to replace Arthur Smith. LA’s front office execs, including COO Kevin Demoff and general manager Les Snead, have been openly campaigning for Morris in hopes of landing him a promotion to head coach.
The Rams and fans of the team should be happy for Morris and wish him luck in his new venture, and it’s not like the team is left empty handed—they’ll receive a third round compensatory picks in each of the next two NFL Drafts because of Morris’ departure.
While Sean McVay is usually quiet when it comes to his coaching hires—usually the team announces their moves once the staff is 100% complete—he’s likely be preparing for Morris to move on for months now. LA’s leading man probably has a plan in place and a list of defensive coordinator candidates lined up.
What could Sean McVay look for in his next DC, and which names could be on his radar?
More of the same
When McVay hired Brandon Staley as the defensive play caller in 2020, the move signaled a change from Wade Phillips’ scheme to the Vic Fangio style of defense. Even after Staley left to become the Los Angeles Chargers’ head coach after a single season, the Rams asked Morris to run an adjacent system despite not having much personal experience in such.
Would McVay want to continue down the path with another Fangio disciple and choose someone from that coaching tree, or could he pivot to a new defensive scheme entirely?
We’ve seen a lot of defensive coordinators that were billed as Fangio-adjacent fall flat in recent years, including Staley, former Ram assistant Joe Barry (Packers), Sean Desai (Bears, Seahawks, Eagles), and Ed Donatell (Vikings). Is that an indictment of the system or were these individuals imposters?
Candidates that fit the bill:
Brandon Staley, free agent
Aubrey Pleasant, Rams
Ejiro Evero, Panthers
Joe Barry, free agent
Chris Shula, Rams
Eric Weddle, free agent
Something more aggressive
The Fangio scheme and its off-shooting branches can be difficult to watch and seem too passive at times. It’s never ideal as a fan of the team to see safeties and corners backed deep off the TV broadcast during games. Some teams just aren’t willing to lose that way and let opposing offenses run the ball and dink and dunk underneath for easy gains.
Take former Rams assistant coach and now Minnesota Vikings HC Kevin O’Connell for example. He hired Ed Donatell on his original staff in hopes of capturing the same type of defense Staley and Morris were running in LA. Instead, Donatell lasted only a single season with the Vikings and O’Connell hired former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores to call the defensive plays. Flores was one of the most blitz happy and aggressive defensive coaches in the NFL in 2023. If the Vikings were going down, they were going down swinging.
If the Rams want a similar flavor on defense they could look to this pool:
Candidates that fit the bill:
Wink Martindale, free agent
Patrick Graham, Raiders
Joe Cullen, Chiefs
Something more modern
McVay brought the en-vogue defense to Los Angeles in 2020 by hiring Staley, and back then he was on the front end of the wave of popularity. Things change quickly in the NFL, and if the Fangio defense is falling out of favor there’s sure to be something else to replace it. It’s a copycat league after all, right?
That something could be the defense the Baltimore Ravens have run over the past couple of seasons. It came as a surprise to many when John Harbaugh dismissed long-time defensive assistant Wink Martindale—who went on to lead the New York Giants’ defense under Brian Daboll—and replaced him with someone from his brother’s Michigan staff, Mike Macdonald.
While the change was surprising at the time, Macdonald has helped Baltimore's defense reach new heights. His defense is enigmatic and multiple, and it’s designed to confound opposing quarterbacks. If there’s an up-and-coming style of defense in the NFL, it’s this one.
So how can the the Rams bring such a scheme to Los Angeles and once again be on the front end of the league’s trends? They could consider hiring one of these defensive coaches: