If Dirk Koetter was the Falcons’ offseason hire that raised eyebrows, Mike Nolan is the one that should allay fears.
The Falcons hired Nolan as their defensive coordinator on Tuesday. Rest easy. Nolan, whose Miami Dolphins allowed the sixth fewest points in the NFL this season, has been viewed as one of the game’s premier defensive coordinators, going back to when then-New York Giants coach Dan Reeves hired him in 1993 at the age of only 34.
If Nolan can’t fix some of the team’s problems, it will be because of the team’s personnel issues, not because of a poor scheme or a lack of direction.
Nolan is known for having strong third-down defenses — Miami ranked seventh this season at 34 percent, the Falcons only 29th at 44 percent — and for creativity in terms of how he uses players on the defensive line.
This season as Miami’s coordinator, the Dolphins’ finished 15th in total defense but sixth overall in points allowed (19.6 per game). In 2010, Nolan’s first season in Miami, the Dolphins ranked in the top 10 in overall, pass and run defense for only the eighth time in franchise history.
Steve Spagnuolo, the recent St. Louis Rams head coach and former New York Giants defensive coordinator, was probably the only hire that the Falcons could have made that would’ve been perceived as more of a grand slam. But Spagnuolo is weighing several offers and is known to be deliberate in his decision-making process. It would be understandable if the Falcons just wanted to put the matter to rest, rather than risk not getting either Nolan or Spagnuolo.
The Falcons needed a new result in the postseason. That meant they needed a new plan. Short of changing the head coach or the quarterback, they’ve changed as much as you could realistically expect. Gone are the offensive coordinator (Mike Mularkey), the defensive coordinator (Brian VanGorder), the quarterbacks coach (Bob Bratkowski) and the offensive line coach (Paul Boudreau, who was fired Tuesday).
Nolan’s first head coaching job with San Francisco did not go well (18-37). But he has never struggled to get a job on the defensive side of the ball. He has worked in in Denver, New York, Washington and Baltimore, where he overlapped with Falcons coach Mike Smith.
This decision, there’s no reason to question: The Falcons got it right.
By Jeff Schultz