INTERVIEW: NFL head coach and NJ native Raheem Morris honored

It's safe to say Raheem Morris is having a good start to his year.

The Newark and Irvington, New Jersey native has been named the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons. His appointment marks a significant achievement as he was chosen over several candidates, including NFL legend Bill Belichick.

Now Morris is also the proud recipient of the Essex County Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Award. The event, hosted by County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr., is especially meaningful to Morris, who expressed his joy in receiving an award in his hometown, surrounded by his family and the community that raised him. DiVincenzo also announced the renaming of a field in Essex County Vailsburg Park in Newark to the "Essex County Raheem Morris Field".

"It's really awesome to be here. It's great for me, it's a great time for us. It's a great time for the community," Morris told FOX 5 NY during an exclusive interview inside the offices of the County Executive.

"You put yourself in the best position to go out there and perform at the highest level," he told us about his coaching philosophy.

While staring out of the window of the offices onto the streets below he couldn't help but reminice on growing up here.

"I would catch the bus down to 39 and then catch the bus back up on the 1 to go to St Anne's," he said. "You know, just riding back in today, it was cool, surreal."

Morris would eventually graduate from Irvington High School and go on to play football on Long Island at Hofstra. It's also where he started coaching as a graduate assistant.

His professional coaching career is impressive, highlighted by two Super Bowl victories as an assistant coach. His first Super Bowl win was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the 2002-2003 season. Later, he contributed to another Super Bowl victory while serving as the defensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams in the 2021-2022 season.

But before all that, when he was about 10 years old, he played on a travel basketball team in Newark that was coached by none other than the current Essex County Executive.

"These guys teaching us what commitment meant. and being a part of that there was just, it’s just something you'll never forget," Morris said. "He gave me the first opportunity to get on a plane to go to Tampa and play in a tournament when I was young man. So it's just so many memories of this, this office, the people that run it, such good people in my life."

DiVincenzo, now in his 6th term as Executive, remembers Morris well. "He was like, co-coach it that's how smart he was at that time. and he was just a pleasure to be with. he was a role model for the other kids."

Looking ahead, Morris is focused on his role with the Atlanta Falcons. As one of three black coaches hired this offseason, he sees his appointment as a step forward in recognizing not just the best coaches, but the best people for these roles.

In reflecting on his journey and future, Morris shared a guiding principle: "A lot of people don't care about what you know, until they know how much you care." This mindset, he says, will be central to his approach in his new role and beyond.