The Falcons hired Mike Nolan, who received his start in coaching from Dan Reeves, as their new defensive coordinator on Tuesday.
He replaces Brian VanGorder, who left the team last week to become Auburn’s new defensive coordinator.
Nolan is considered a 3-4 coach. But Falcons coach Mike Smith’s respect for him from their days together in Baltimore runs deep. They will blend the principles of Nolan’s 3-4 with Smith’s 4-3.
The Falcons hired Dirk Koetter as offensive coordinator on Sunday.
Team owner Arthur Blank expects the new coordinators to bring a new set of eyes and expertise to the team.
“Their ability . . . to be totally objective, cold-hearted and unemotional about the young men that we have on the roster [should be an asset],” Blank said. “[We’ll] bring in some folks that will be able to give us maybe some new perspective, maybe some different perspective not only on team questions, but on player issues that we may have as well.”
Despite revamping the secondary and trying to bolster the pass rush, the Falcons struggled to improve their pass defense. Since 2008, they’ve ranked 21st (2008, 220.4), 28th (2009, 241.9), 22nd (2010, 226.6) and 20th (2011, 236.6).
“Moving forward, this defense needs to continue its growth and evolution as a passionate and fiery defense, one that is going to fly to the football, disrupt, be opportunistic and capitalized on opportunities to turn the game around; flip the game in critical situations,” general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “We’ll look for a coordinator who will [aid] Coach Smith and his approach to putting that type of aggressive defense on the field.”
Nolan has been a defensive coordinator in the NFL for 14 seasons. He also was San Francisco’s head coach from 2005 to 2008.
“Mike Nolan is an established coordinator in this League,” said Falcons head coach Mike Smith in a statement released by the team. “He brings more than 25 years of NFL experience to our team and has been a coordinator at this level for 14 years. Mike has a history of developing physically intimidating defensive units, and we are fortunate to have him join our staff.”
Nolan spent the last two seasons as the Miami Dolphins’ defensive coordinator.
Last season, the Dolphins boasted the third best run defense in the NFL, allowing just 95.6 yards per game and 3.7 yards per carry. His defense also produced 41 sacks which ranked tied for 10th in the NFL and allowed the sixth fewest points per game at 19.6. The Dolphins also ranked seventh in third-down percentage (33.8) and sixth in red zone defense, holding opponents to a 44.2 touchdown percentage inside the 20.
In 2010, Nolan’s defense ranked among the league’s top ten in overall defense, pass defense and run defense, and was one of just five units in the League to accomplish that feat. Nolan joined Miami after spending the 2009 season as the defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos. Under his tutelage, Denver’s defense improved to seventh in the NFL in total defense after finishing 29th in 2008. Denver’s pass defense was equally impressive, ranking third in the NFL, allowing just 186.3 yards per game through the air.
Prior to joining the Broncos’ staff, Nolan served as the San Francisco 49ers’ head coach from 2005 to 2008. During Nolan’s four-year tenure with the club, the 49ers were one of the NFL’s most consistent teams in stopping the run. San Francisco ranked fourth in the league in yards per carry during that period surrendering just 3.9 yards per rush.
Nolan spent four seasons in Baltimore from 2001 to 2004, including the last three as the defensive coordinator. Nolan’s group tied for the NFL lead in takeaways (106) while ranking fifth in the league in both points per game allowed (18.8) and third down percentage (34.7). He also coached five Ravens defenders to nine trips to the Pro Bowl, while tutoring back-to-back AP Defensive Players of the Year in LB Ray Lewis (2003) and S Ed Reed (2004).
The New York Giants made Nolan the NFL’s youngest defensive coordinator in 1993 at the age of 34. He spent the next eight seasons as a defensive coordinator with the Giants (1993-96), Redskins (1997-99) and Jets (2000). In his first year with the Giants, his defense led the League allowing just 12.8 points per game. His coaching career began at his alma mater, Oregon University, where he served as a graduate assistant in 1981. He went on to coach at Stanford University and Rice University as a linebackers and defensive backs coach before the Denver Broncos hired him to be the special teams/linebackers coach in 1987. He spent six seasons with the Broncos and helped the team reach the Super Bowl in the 1987 and 1989 seasons.
–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog