Falcons get it right hiring Mike Nolan to coach defense

Mike Nolan was given his first defensive coordinator's job by then-New York Giants coach Dan Reeves in 1993. (AP photo)

Mike Nolan was given his first defensive coordinator's job by then-New York Giants coach Dan Reeves in 1993. (AP photo)

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

Follow me on Twitter (@JeffSchultzAJC). Friend me on Facebook (Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC).

141 comments Add your comment

ole richie

January 17th, 2012
3:46 pm

first? awesome hire

pat

January 17th, 2012
3:49 pm

Great hire. Now draft well with what picks you DO have.

KCTheTruth

January 17th, 2012
3:49 pm

Big time here. Now, let’s get bigger on OL and the DL. Can’t wait to get some more NASTY on the line.

Wayne A

January 17th, 2012
3:50 pm

Will hate on Thomas Dimitroff on still

January 17th, 2012
3:51 pm

Minor worry that he’ll try to 3-4 our 4-3 talent, but on 3rd downs… it feels like any way is up

tgueboy

January 17th, 2012
3:51 pm

ground_fog

January 17th, 2012
3:51 pm

Hello NT Paul Soliai from Miami. Run stopping beast .Bring him home TD

Kane337

January 17th, 2012
3:52 pm

Fantastic hire!

CT Falcons Fan

January 17th, 2012
3:53 pm

Jeff, if Falcons don’t make playoffs or go one-and-done again next season, is Smitty gone? What about TD?

The Real Falcon

January 17th, 2012
3:53 pm

Not a full slate of draft picks and not a lot of money left after our own FA’s

Marcus

January 17th, 2012
3:59 pm

Our season-long run D wasn’t “horrible”, statistically. We got gashed in the playoffs, but how much of that was a function of being on the field too long because the offense didn’t generate much possession time or points? Also, seemed like we had a long field (on offense) aaaaaaaaaaaaaaallllll day.

Herschel Talker

January 17th, 2012
3:59 pm

Schultzie:

You the man!

HT

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

January 17th, 2012
4:03 pm

No more defense EXCUSES

CHOKE no more EXCUSES :)

Doc

January 17th, 2012
4:03 pm

Gotta fish or cut bait with Peria Jerry and William Moore, two high profile “misses” for TD.

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution [...]

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

January 17th, 2012
4:07 pm

Smitty meet your replacement

HA HA HA :)

Hello?

January 17th, 2012
4:08 pm

Question, was he Miami’s Head Coach or Offensive Coordinator? Did he just get fired? I don’t typically keep up with the fishheads.

Dave

January 17th, 2012
4:10 pm

^you are dumb doc!!! William Moore is young, and showed Great potential this year… You watch he will become a great player for the falcons!!! TD is the man!!!

Hello?

January 17th, 2012
4:10 pm

I meant was he Miami’s HC or DC (not OC)?

Just get it done

January 17th, 2012
4:12 pm

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

TrishaDishaWarEagle

January 17th, 2012
4:13 pm

Great Hire!! Looking forward to seeing what Coach Smith, Kotter, and Nolan put together. I wish there was no off season in Football!!!

Go falcons!!!!

TrishaDishaWarEagle

January 17th, 2012
4:13 pm

Lawnmower Man

January 17th, 2012
4:15 pm

The Falcons have unleashed an army of blog plants to convince us that this is a good hire, so we will renew our season tickets. Sad.

T

January 17th, 2012
4:15 pm

Like the Nolan pick. SOLID. Not excited about the OC. Wanted someone more explosive. I never thought to myself… Gee I wish we could have an offense like the Jags. I am sure Smitty knows more than I do. On a positive note the Jags did run a screen to MJD.

extremus

January 17th, 2012
4:17 pm

I feel much better about this hire than I do the one for Koetter, but I’m willing (for the time being) to wait and see how things pan out. Obviously this leaves a quarterbacks coach and offensive line coach, both of which will be very important in their own right to getting better consistency out of our offense.

But today, great news. Glad to have Nolan as DC.

Gerhart76

January 17th, 2012
4:20 pm

I don’t have a problem with this hire. My own preference is for the 4-3 defense. But we are undersized and under athletic (except for Abraham and maybe Bierman) and need an infusion of agressive pass rushers.

I don’t think we have anyone that would fit the mold of the NFL nose tackle needed for the 3-4 (where’s Grady Jackson?)

Let’s hope this coach’s son performs better than the last one we hired. (Mike’s father, Dick was a reasonably successful coach for the 49’s but not so successful for the Saints).

Both Dimitroff and Smith would appear to be on thin ice after this much change.

Can anyone recall another team being successful after such drastic changes? (Other than the Patriots who’s coaches left mainly to take better jobs)

more of the same?

January 17th, 2012
4:27 pm

Hellooo Missster Koetter…..How is Missus koetter?

JSS

January 17th, 2012
4:28 pm

Let’s see, in Atlanta you’ll have no Ray Lewis, no Patrick Willis, and no Karlos Dansby… OK, then you add that to a training staff that can’t keep players on the field, well it leads to more questions than answers… Nolan can coach defense, but the big shots lit them up… That 516 passing day by the Pats is a recurring nightmare…

tony

January 17th, 2012
4:28 pm

What’s so great about this hire?

Hummon

January 17th, 2012
4:28 pm

“This decision, there’s no reason to question: The Falcons got it right.”

Ummm . . . we’ll see. Same with Koetter.

Who's new QB coach?

January 17th, 2012
4:28 pm

rivercard

January 17th, 2012
4:31 pm

This hire makes a lot more sense, which based on my recent prognostication skills probably means Dirk will be more successful. Can’t wait till next year to see how this all comes together.

M&M

January 17th, 2012
4:33 pm

Gerhart76

I don’t think Biermann or Abraham are returning. I know that on Atlanta Housewife is nervous ! :???:

M&M

January 17th, 2012
4:34 pm

Roark

January 17th, 2012
4:35 pm

so uh…when and where is the block party JS?

Larry

January 17th, 2012
4:36 pm

Pity poor the spouses or more likely former spouses who’ve had to endure the eternally negative “Eeyore’s” on this blog. Please spare us the doomsday comments and predictions and double up on your Prozac or Valium!

It’s a solid hire…give the man a freaking chance!

Vote for Pedro

January 17th, 2012
4:39 pm

hire M. Schlereth as O-Line coach.

Vote for Pedro

January 17th, 2012
4:40 pm

and Uncle Rico as QB coach

RK

January 17th, 2012
4:50 pm

@Doc, William Moore is “miss”? What are you smoking? He’s probably our best DB.

michael

January 17th, 2012
4:55 pm

Sorry Guys but I dont see the Falcons making playoffs next year.I think the Saints will win the division again next year and the Carolina Panthers are upcoming next year to edge out the Falcons.

JSS

January 17th, 2012
5:04 pm

Always with the pharmaceuticals to better happiness drugs and family swipes, come on… Nobody said the man could not coach, the personnel on the other hand, you’re fooling yourself… Without Grimes, teams went to work. I never count on Moore, Nicholas, or Weatherspoon(out of a possible 32 games, you’ve gotten 27 from him) because you’ve only gotten a one full season out the 3…

Stewie

January 17th, 2012
5:10 pm

michael, we won’t be sorry when you’re wrong.

Stewie

January 17th, 2012
5:14 pm

All the Yankee and Red Sox fans are gonna be ticked…..ESPN just changed from their network to the Tim Tebow network.

Big Lou

January 17th, 2012
5:16 pm

JSS

I don’t usually respond to crap trolls on the board, but you’re crazy if you think Sean W. and Curtis Lofton are not solid LB for Mike Nolan. Coaches around the league are giving props to our LB core and you never know, with the right coaching these guys could be the next Willis or Ray. Mike Nolan had the option to go to any team, yet he picked the Falcons. I wonder Why? Oh, that’s because we have great defensive potential. Our schemes and predictability was our failure.

Nate

January 17th, 2012
5:22 pm

why would he leave the dolphins for the falcons?

FalconJim

January 17th, 2012
5:23 pm

JS, just how do you know they got it right with Mike Nolan? Are you a “soothsayer”???

I’m taking a very cautious, wait and see attitude…

willie

January 17th, 2012
5:24 pm

Changing gears to offense….wonder if Falcons will make run at Matt Forte since Koetter likes versatile backs? He would be great in our offense.

JSS

January 17th, 2012
5:39 pm

Lou, Lofton is a free agent… Until he’s signed, I don’t count him… And Willis and Ray were game changers without ever having NFL coaching, they didn’t need to be coached up to reach their potential, self motivators from day one… People in Atlanta have the hardest time understanding that fact than any other fan base in the NFL… Most of your so-called “great defensive potential” are UFAs (Grimes, Lofton, Abe, Bierman) or people you generally can’t count on (DeCoud-somebody please make him a good offer)…

Mike Nolan was seeing jobs fall left and right and was in limbo in Miami… I don’t blame him for taking Atlanta’s offer…

Drew

January 17th, 2012
5:40 pm

im so glad the season ended up the way it did… now we have 2 new coordinators that i consider an upgrade to their predecessors.

JSS

January 17th, 2012
5:47 pm

And you need to be holding Smith’s head to grindstone about his Athletic Performance coach Jeff Fish instead calling people “trolls” for telling the truth… Your IR list is always full and you get pushed around all over the field… Troll that!