Q and A with new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan


Mike Nolan (Associated Press)

C-Viv reporting from Flowery Branch.

Here are excerpts of Mike Nolan’s conference call with the Atlanta media Wednesday after being named the team’s new defensive coordinator. The biggest highlight is he does not plan to switch to a 3-4 scheme, saying the team has been built as a 4-3 scheme and that currently works best with the personnel.

Q. Will you switch to 3-4 defense?

A. It’s my philosophy that you build your scheme around the players and not the other way around. What has been built there is a very solid foundation on a 4-3 defense. In my 25 years in the NFL, 14 years as a coordinator, seven of them have been in a 4-3 and seven have been in a 3-4. I’m very familiar with both. When I’ve been in a 4-3 I’ve frequently used the 3-4 as part of it. It would appear to me that is what is best for that football team.

Q. What do you know about team and its personnel?

A. I have limited knowledge. I’ve looked at some of it. I know they have a solid group. Overall, it’s an outstanding football team. They have been in the playoffs three of the last four years. They have a very good quarterback. As a group, Mike [Smith] and Thomas [Dimitroff] have done an outstanding job of putting together a roster. I’m just excited to be a part of it and hopefully add something to the defensive side.

Q. What is your relationship with Mike Smith?

A. Mike and I did work together in Baltimore. … I became defensive coordinator and Mike was the linebacker coach. I think we were together one year before he got the coordinator’s job at Jacksonville and left. … I’ve always had tremendous respect for Mike. I think he’s an outstanding coach. He’s coached some very good players. I think he gets a lot out of his players. He’s an outstanding person. We’ve stayed in contact and remained friends.

Q. You had other options, was it your relationship with Mike that brought you here?

A. It was the whole picture. Knowing Mike has a lot to do with it. I’ve also known Thomas for a number of years, but not near as well as I’ve known Mike. …. Big picture to me looked very good and it still does. … To me it’s a good fit.

Q. The secondary has been an issue. They were 20th in the league. Do you have a philosophy there or a plan to fix it?

A. I haven’t had a chance to look over all the players too much, so I can’t comment on an individual basis. But as a whole, I will say this, I think the secondary today is one of the most important areas today more than it was 15-20 years ago just because of the quarterback play nowadays. There are probably more good quarterbacks in the league than there has ever been. Outside of pass rush, the secondary is where the quarterback attacks you the most. It’s real import to have a good secondary. I’m kind of familiar with some of the guys. I think it’s a solid group but in order to play well it obviously takes 11 guys so you can’t put it all on one position. All I can say is it is a vital part of success nowadays in football. … People always talk about having four starting DBs but I think the future is there are really five starting DBs if these quarterbacks keep doing what they are doing.

Q. Coach Smith said he was looking for a certain skill set in new coordinators. In your case, what you do consider your skill set?

A. I think it really starts with what your philosophy is. The thing I’ve really prided myself on over the years is I’ve been very fortunate to be with some outstanding coaches over the years. … The coaches I’ve worked with have made me better. I hope I’ve made them better. Over my years in the NFL, I would say you build your schemes around your players, not the other way around. From a philosophical standpoint, or a skill standpoint, I’d like to think that I’ve been able to, along with the guys I’ve coached with, been able to do what’s best for the players and in turn for the team, whether that is 3-4 or 4-3, whether that’s more blitzes or less blitzes. Because some players do that well and some don’t. What I mean by that is some blitz well and some don’t. Some are better suited for different things. Outside of that, I believe I’m extremely passionate about what I do. I think the best job in football is coordinating. I’ve been a head coach before and there is a lot of thrill in that. But when you get to put your hands on players and coach them and teach them and see them have success and get to call plays, that’s a great job.

Q. Were you given the option of saying you wanted to coach 3-4 or were you told we are a 4-3 team?

A. When Mike and I watched film, he really asked. He said this is what we’ve built to, this is what we are but he said ‘What do you see it looking like?’ I was curious. It was the first thing I said to Mike is ‘What is your vision for this group?’ Mike was very honest and said we’ve built of 4-3 and this is where we are, what we look like, but I want you to look at it as well. When we were watching film together, he said ‘I can see the wheels turning in your head right now.’ Which they are because when I’m watching it I’m trying to see. But he, at no time, said ‘If you want this, this is what we’ve got to do it on.’ Mike is open-minded about that. But I do believe that the vision for them and the target they’ve been hitting is one we want to stay consistent with it and go forward in that respect. If I felt like it could easily be tweaked to got to something else because I felt it could be better, I would obviously suggest it. But I think the track they’ve been on is a good one. 4-3 or 3-4 is very relevant as long as you are doing what your players allow you to do.

Q. Are you looking for three-down guys?

A. The more three-down guys you can get the better. There is no question about that. These are when guys are talking about who to draft, it’s hard to draft a two-down player in my opinion. In the real high first round, you’ve got to try to get as many three-down guys as you can. Sometimes you don’t. Sometimes it takes years for those guys to develop into three-down players. … The way offenses are tempoing the game, you can’t get that guy on and off the field without a penalty. When an offense is in a hurry-up mode, you can’t send a lot of guys on and off the field so you need as many three-down guys as you can get otherwise you just bite the bullet and leave them out there.

Q. What is your pass rush philosophy?

A. … You are going to play a Cam Newton differently then you are going to play a Drew Brees or a Tom Brady. There is a lot that goes into the pass rush, the pass coverage. But they are so tied together and the success of either one, is so tied together. … I would rather have 10 guys get four sacks then only four guys get 10 sacks each because it’s a lot more difficult for an offense to look at your entire defense and say ‘We’ve got to block them all guys. That guy might come, that guy might come.’ That’s a real stress for a quarterback.

Q. Do you intend to keep the rest of the staff in place?

A. That’s Mike’s area, but it’s my understanding that Mike would like to keep everybody and keep this staff intact.

–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog

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124 comments Add your comment

I'm with ATL teams (Always)

January 18th, 2012
12:28 pm


January 18th, 2012
12:34 pm

Welcome to Atlanta Mike!!! Now let’s GATA on defense!!!

Claws of the Scorpion

January 18th, 2012
12:38 pm

Who do we have who can play all three downs? I don’t think they can keep the team intact. Especially Abe!!

Hardy Falcon

January 18th, 2012
12:40 pm

I hope they give Nolan free range to get rid of the dead weight on Defense and get some new blood and aggressive playmakers on the field.

Poppa Falcon

January 18th, 2012
12:41 pm

He has my vote!


January 18th, 2012
12:41 pm

Gotta say I’m still thrilled about this hire. I’d never thought Mike Nolan could make me smile. Who’da thunk it? Damn,..I’m already itchy for next season.


January 18th, 2012
12:41 pm

I wonder what his compensation package is, for how long

Claws of the Scorpion

January 18th, 2012
12:42 pm

By the way, I like Mike Nolan hire a lot.


January 18th, 2012
12:43 pm

Im off to get my anus bleached….


January 18th, 2012
12:43 pm

i hope he can help improve our defense and maybe take some pressure off the offense


January 18th, 2012
12:44 pm

great interview.


January 18th, 2012
12:45 pm

time to change some members for the staff i cant belive they are gonna leave the secondary coach he dosent perfomr well, i hope nolan takes a good look into the D personal and pick well and dosent get up getting all the trash bvg left, i love the sign the pick the mentality lest just waint n see

Claws of the Scorpion

January 18th, 2012
12:48 pm

Just heard on 680 that Spags might be going to Indy as a HC!! We have the best DC in the division.

Dirtybird 82

January 18th, 2012
12:52 pm

Mike, please do not ask TD to resign Decoud! He will only hurt your defense.

Cut Chris Owens right now too. Trust me, there is nothing good in this current Falcon wearing #21.


January 18th, 2012
12:54 pm

Always refreshing to listen to smart coaches who understand football. Maybe he cleared up all the concern over the 3-4, or 4-3, or 4-6, or 6-9.


January 18th, 2012
12:58 pm

Our entire secondary is awful. If Brent Grimes is your best corner (a guy that was pretty much undraftable in every circle) then you’re a terrible secondary. Robinson was the biggest waste of money I have ever seen. We could have given that money to Koenen and gotten a better return investment.

They need to implode the secondary and get at least one shut down corner so we can lean a safety to the other side and leave a floating safety towards the shut down’s side and to cover the middle.

Die Hard Falcon

January 18th, 2012
1:03 pm

I really hope that they do blend some 3-4 principles into our D. I have seen Nolan’s D in Denver & Miami and he really knows how to run the 3-4, I don’t know as much about how his D performed in the 4-3, either way, hopefully he can move us into the top 10, that would surely help our offense, if we can get the Oline going,we’ll compete for the division and in the playoffs, well… I sure hope to see success. Go Falcons, welcome Coach Nolan!

Falcon in DC (Rupe)

January 18th, 2012
1:04 pm

With a complete off-season to work with, this staff should perform well.


January 18th, 2012
1:08 pm

It will be nice having both DC and OC on the field during games. Hated that Malarkey hid in the box….that wasn’t a Mike Smith thing was it?


January 18th, 2012
1:10 pm

I know folks are down on Dunta, Decoud, and a various number of other Falcons defenders…

But, personally, it might be best to reserve your judgement about some of these guys until you actually see them in another scheme, possibly one that’s more favorable to them?

Look at Dashon Gholdson out in San Fran. He was a FA last season, and a lot of Niners fans had him pretty much gone. They resign him, bring in Carlos Rodgers (who was nothing like what he’s shown himself to be now in other systems), and they both look great. Why? Not because they drastically improved from one year to the next, but because they have coaches who design schemes that play to their strengths…

I’m willing to give every one of these guys on defense a pass. Who wants to be a corner playing 10 yards off your man? Who wants to play in mile-wide zones? BVG’s scheme was the problem. Now, we wanna find out if that was the only problem…

Big Crimson 75

January 18th, 2012
1:13 pm

Good Hire.
Much better than the OC hire.
Halftime adjustments – here we come!!


January 18th, 2012
1:23 pm

He will design the defense around what the players are capable of doing rather than trying to put the players into a certain scheme. That is the only sensible way to go.


January 18th, 2012
1:39 pm

Why did no one ask him about his zone vs. man coverage philosophy?

DC Dirty Bird

January 18th, 2012
1:43 pm

Two things that I think revealed itself in this interview. I don’t think that Nolan feels we have legitiment pass rushers on the team outside of Abraham and he feels like our corners are better than how they’ve looked. Look for us to draft a big corner or try and acquire one through free agency.


January 18th, 2012
1:44 pm

Goodbye John Abraham
Goodbye Thomas Decoud you miss too many tackles to play Safety!!
Dunta Robinson will get to play man to man finally or get used to being the Safety.


January 18th, 2012
1:44 pm

Sounds good but he really don’t know the team very well because he state that we have a Very good QB.

Mediocrity continues...

January 18th, 2012
1:51 pm

You should have asked him what his philosophy on the “soft zone” is. I’d like to hear his answer for that…

Section 322 Row 7

January 18th, 2012
2:00 pm

Breaking News!!! All tenured season ticket holders (10+ years) will receive their seats free of charge this year for supporting a dismal product.


January 18th, 2012
2:03 pm

You idiots keep ripping Chris Owens for one bad playoff game … if you watched any games this year… Chris Owens is a solid outside cornerback … he was making plays all over the field … he is simply not a slot cornerback … soo lay off of him and keep him as a back up or let him start for Duanta … cause there is the real problem….

[...] biggest question that arose from Mike Nolan’s hiring is what scheme he’ll run and thanks to this interview conducted by the AJC on Wednesday, we now know. It’s my philosophy that you build your scheme [...]


January 18th, 2012
2:04 pm

I hope this puts an end to our dbs staying 10 yards away from a receiver until he catchs the ball and then trying to chase him down. Let’s get physical and make the other team earn every foot they get. I believe our current players will respond favorably to this and will give that extra effort. No more “soft defense” please. Welcome to our team Mr. Nolan.


January 18th, 2012
2:07 pm

I like this guy….he’s on his way back up & question now is how long can the falcons keep him. Figure 3-4 years tops assuming he performs as expected.


January 18th, 2012
2:09 pm

Like the hire.I’m like a few others get rid of owens,robinson(bust) and go after a pass rusher and a shut down corner.Decoud has made some good plays maybe the new dc can get this defense where it needs to be.


January 18th, 2012
2:09 pm

I think that this was one of the best off season pick-ups. Now let get another pass rusher and a shut down corner. Go Falcons

Great Falconi

January 18th, 2012
2:10 pm

I have much more of a problem with the scheme we’ve been running on D than most of the players in it. I feel that playing soft zones penalizes your pass rushers. When you leave guys open within a second or two of the snap, the QB can get the ball out without your rush having time to get there. Soft zones also penalize your corners, especially when they’re playing 7-10 yards back at the snap. The only way you can cover a guy well in that situation is if he goes deep or you’ve perfectly timed the pass and route to break everything up.


January 18th, 2012
2:13 pm

I hope TD defers massively to these new coordinators, and to Smith, come draft time. I suspect TD has some pride/ego issues, and he probably wants to run the whole draft thing himself. But his record of success is really spotty, and Blank simply must step forward and make the draft picks real “team” decisions. (You can bet that giving up all those draft picks wasn’t Mularkey’s decision.)


January 18th, 2012
2:14 pm

I think Grimes and Moore are keepers, not impressed with DeCoud or Robinson. Franks and Owens did make some improvements this year compaired to last year and once Sanders and Hayden learned the defense I thought they also played well. I’m more worried about the D-line.

Joshua Malavenda

January 18th, 2012
2:14 pm

great intreview C -VIvv!

He has been class everywhere he has worked. I am really excited for next season who says defense doesnt win championships look at the 49ers and the giants. I hope they trade decoup for like a 5th rd pick and either trade dunta robinson for couple early round picks or figure way to use him that uses his great tackling, agression , and speed like maybe make a blitz package for him. I also hope if they dont do any changing of the coaching staff at least do two thing hire a new secondary coach and reunite Nolan with Mike Singletary as his linebacker coach and make him a assistant defensive cord. They both had a big part to play in the success of the defense in San Fransciso right now. THey both would add some needed agression to the defense and I think they would also be able to help Motivate the defense to reach past its potential.Not to mention, Singletary would also bring our already pretty good young linebacker crew to greatness for years to come. The Falcons also need to resign Lofton, Grimes. and Abrahams so we dont mess up the dynamic of the defense so we dont get situation like we had with our offensive line when let go of Dahl last year.

Mike Franklin

January 18th, 2012
2:18 pm

I think there is too much attention paid to base scheme. 3-4 vs.4-3 is far less important than how the second number is applied. Linebackers were at one time a second line of D against the run. But now they have to be less beefy and more agile to cover the short slants and crossing routs… not to mention the screen. Linebackers today are probably the most rounded athletes on the field, second only to, maybe, tight ends.

A good defense should be able to adjust from 3-4 to 4-3 and back again depending on what kind of offence they are faced off with. Structuring on one over the other to the point of it being like a religion seems really self defeating. The more flex, the better able you are to adjust to your foe.

Just a personal view. I coached my kids in middle school and sometimes think I am smart enough to talk about it lol.

Mediocrity continues...

January 18th, 2012
2:24 pm

Anyone on the Atlanta D going to speak up for Matt Ryan like Suggs does for Flacco? Pretty sure he even takes a shot at the weak arm check down king himself…



January 18th, 2012
2:31 pm

Joshua M

DeCoud is a free agent. We cant trade him, we no longer own him


January 18th, 2012
2:40 pm

I was very disappointed to hear him say that the defensive staff is Mikes area and that Mike wanted to keep the staff intact. It seems that if you are going to bring in a new DC, you would let him pick his own guys. Also, when you were once someones boss, and now you are their boss, it usually doesn’t work. I believe Nolan will be a one year and done.

SIck & Tired Of Being Sick & TIred

January 18th, 2012
2:41 pm

I don’t get the continued comments about Ryan having a weak arm when he continues to overthrow open receivers throwing down field. That is NOT a sign of a weak arm but a problem with accuracy. Also it is kind of difficult to wait on receivers to get open when the OL can’t protect the QB. Have you noticed how much time Brees, Rogers, Manning, etc. have to look down field for open receivers behind their OLs?????

The offense and defense will improve next year if the new coordinators scheme to the strengths of the players instead of forcing them into a designed scheme without being willing to make adjustments.


January 18th, 2012
2:42 pm

Correction-when you were once someones boss and they are now your boss, it usually doesn’t end well.

Great Falconi

January 18th, 2012
2:57 pm

Ryan’s “noodle” arm and completely contrary ability to consistently overthrow receivers downfield aside, I think the Falcons are in much, much better shape in the coaching staff than they were ten days ago. At least Koetter’s saying the things most of us want to hear. Let’s hope he puts them into practice. As far as Mike Nolan goes, I know that guy can coach defense. If Smitty leaves him alone (as well he should), Nolan will bring improvement to that side of the ball.


January 18th, 2012
3:01 pm

Brent Grimes is well on his way to being shut down!!! You can tell who watches the games and who doesnt…. Clowns

Mike Franklin

January 18th, 2012
3:12 pm

I don’t get it. I replied to another user… agreeing with their comment and adding a few details. It was not obscene, vulgar, insulting… or even a critique of the original article. But it must have hit some great Chinese firewall because after 3 attempts, it never showed. Is this what SOPA will be like?


January 18th, 2012
3:16 pm

It’s not the X’s and O’s, it’s the Jimmies and Joes…


January 18th, 2012
3:20 pm

Sick and tired – I agree with your point about the OLine giving more time for routes to develop/Ryan to make his reads – throw the ball down the field more.

However, I disagree with your assessment of Matt Ryan’s arm strength. Ryan habitually throws the ball too high, causing the receivers to always leave their feet and stretch to catch the passes. As a result, the defense has the time to catch up and make the tackle, OR the receivers lose their balance and fall down after making the catch. The Falcons talked about being more explosive on offense, but that doesn’t mean you have to throw 50-60 yard passes. Most of the time it means getting yards after the catch (YAC), and I’ll bet the Falcons rank near the bottom of the league in YAC. This is directly the fault of Matt Ryan throwing too high.

The reason QB’s throw high is because their arm strength is poor, and they compensate by throwing it too hard – the ball then will always sail on them….poor accuracy.

Ryan needs to get in the weight room and get some upper body strength – his passes will come down and our YAC will go up dramatically. Julio, Douglas, Roddy and even Gonzo all have the speed and moves to get the extra yards. You saw this in one of late season games when Ryan threw a 10 yard crossing route to Julio, with the ball delivered shoulder-high (not 2′ over his head), Julio split the seam and literally blew by 3 defenders for a TD.

Get in the weight room, Matt.

Joshua Malavenda

January 18th, 2012
3:33 pm

OhhhhYEAH- I knew he was a free agent but I thought for some reason you still could trade when they were free agents and since we cant get any compensation out of him we will do my second choice which was release him. Thanks for making me aware,

Max- The sitatuion with working with someone before thats why they play the game my friend just because it didnt work before doesnt neccessairly mean it wont work now and like a wise men once told me “More Will Be Revealed” but you could be right and if that happends I will give you my cell number and you can personally tell me I told you so. I am also a little dissapointed about him not letting him pick his own personale also.

Mike Franklin- You are aboulutely right about linebackers being the most rounded athletea on the field and also about the changing of schemes to fit your opponents offense.

SIck & Tired Of Being Sick & TIred- You are exactly right about Matt Ryan and I will put money on the fact that he will be put in the elite qb status if he gets a line that will block for him.