Former Hawaii linebacker Jeff Ulbrich entrusted to lead Falcons defense after coaching staff shakeup in Atlanta

Sports

Atlanta Falcons assistant coach Jeff Ulbrich (center in red long-sleeve shirt) motions to players during an NFL football training camp practice, Tuesday, July 23, 2019, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (AP Photo/Andrea Smith)

After an 0-5 start to his sixth season as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, Dan Quinn was fired on Monday. Falcons defensive coordinator Raheem Morris was elevated to interim head coach. Meanwhile, assistant head coach and linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich was promoted to defensive coordinator for the time being.

Ulbrich, who was a linebacker for the University of Hawaii football team from 1998-1999, played in the NFL from 2000 to 2009 for the San Francisco 49ers. Since then, he’s steadily climbed the coaching ranks at both the college and pro levels. He was an assistant special teams coach with the Seattle Seahawks from 2010 to 2011, then was at UCLA from 2012 to 2014, where his last season in Westwood was spent as both the linebackers coach and defensive coordinator.

Ulbrich has been the linebackers coach for the Falcons since 2015 and now gets his first shot to oversee a defense at the pro level. It’s a role that Morris (who has also been on the Falcons staff since 2015) feels comfortable handing off to Ulbrich, as the two have already built a rapport for the past five seasons.

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“When you go into this type of role, you don’t want to overbear yourself with too many things. Giving (Ulbrich) the defensive coordinator role was a spot that he’s comfortable with, something that he’s helped me with before. … It’s a very comfortable move for us, it’s very comfortable between me and him,” Morris said in a conference call with media on Tuesday. “We’re very tied together in what we want to do and how we want to do it. We worked that way at the end of last year, we worked that way at the beginning of this year and we’ll continue to do those roles together.”

The Falcons face an uphill battle in a tight NFC South and aim to get their season back on track against the 1-4 Minnesota Vikings this Sunday.

If Ulbrich were to one day become an NFL head coach, he would become the second person with Hawaii ties to have that title. The first would be June Jones, who was his college head coach. Coincidentally, Jones was the head coach for the Falcons from 1994 to 1996 and also served as the interim coach for the San Diego Chargers in 1998. From there, he was UH’s head coach from 1999 to 2007 before leaving for SMU.

As for current NFL players with Hawaii ties, here’s how they fared during Week 5 of the 2020 NFL season.

Active roster

Tyson Alualu, defensive lineman, Pittsburgh Steelers (Saint Louis): Alualu had three total tackles as the Steelers improved to 4-0 with a 39-28 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Bradlee Anae, defensive end, Dallas Cowboys (Kahuku): Anae played in just one snap in a 37-34 win over the New York Giants, which almost resulted in a sack.

DeForest Buckner, defensive tackle, Indianapolis Colts (Punahou): Buckner had five total (three solo) tackles in a 32-23 loss to the Cleveland Browns.

Kamalei Correa, outside linebacker, Tennessee Titans (Saint Louis): Correa was activated off the COVID-19 reserve list for Tuesday’s game against the Buffalo Bills but was listed as inactive.

Ka’imi Fairbairn, kicker, Houston Texans (Punahou): Fairbairn made all three of his field goal attempts, as well as all three of his extra points attempts, in a 30-14 win for the Texans over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Alohi Gilman, safety, Los Angeles Chargers (Kahuku): Gilman recorded a tackle in a 30-27 loss to the New Orleans Saints.

Kamu Grugier-Hill, linebacker, Miami Dolphins (Kamehameha): Gruiger-Hill registered three total tackles for a stifling Miami defense in a 43-17 win over the San Francisco 49ers. After the game, Grugier-Hill caught up with former Eastern Illinois and Patriots teammate Jimmy Garoppolo.

Nate Herbig, guard, Philadelphia Eagles (Saint Louis): Herbig’s Eagles lost to Alualu’s Steelers in the first matchup between the two Saint Louis alums, but the left guard remains one of the most consistent members of the entire team in Philadelphia.

Hercules Mata’afa, defensive lineman, Minnesota Vikings (Lahainaluna): Mata’afa was inactive in a 27-26 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday and released by the Vikings on Tuesday.

Netane Muti, guard, Denver Broncos (Leilehua): The Broncos had a bye during Week 5.

Rigoberto Sanchez, punter, Colts (University of Hawaii): Sanchez had one punt for 54 yards in a 32-23 loss to the Cleveland Browns. He also held for kicker Rodrigo Blankenship, who hit three field goals and two extra points.

Tua Tagovailoa, quarterback, Miami Dolphins (Saint Louis): Tagovailoa still has yet to play, though Dolphins starter Ryan Fitzpatrick showed little reason to be subbed out in a 43-17 rout over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. Fitzpatrick completed 22 of his 28 passes for 350 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions as the Dolphins improved to 2-3.

Jahlani Tavai, linebacker, Detroit Lions (University of Hawaii): The Lions had a bye during Week 5.

Injured reserve 

Keith Kirkwood, receiver, Carolina Panthers (University of Hawaii)

Marcus Mariota, quarterback, Las Vegas Raiders (Saint Louis)

Isaac Seumalo, offensive lineman, Philadelphia Eagles (born in Hawaii)

COVID-19 reserve 

Leo Koloamatangi, offensive lineman, New York Jets (University of Hawaii) 

Jordan Ta’amu, quarterbacks, Kansas City Chiefs (Pearl City)

Practice squad 

Breiden Fehoko, defensive tackle, Los Angeles Chargers (Farrington)

Trayvon Henderson, safety, Cincinnati Bengals (University of Hawaii)

Marcus Kemp, receiver, Kansas City Chiefs (University of Hawaii): Kemp was released by the Chiefs last Tuesday to make room for cornerback Bashaud Breeland, who was returning from a suspension. The Chiefs signed him back to the practice squad on Thursday.

John Ursua, receiver, Seattle Seahawks (University of Hawaii)

JoJo Ward, receiver, Arizona Cardinals (University of Hawaii)

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