Despite what you may read about coaching trees and other bulls**t, Mike Nolan learned about football from his father Dick Nolan, former DC of the Cowboys and HC of the 49ers. Dick Nolan learned defense from Tom Landry. While Landry was later known for his offensive innovation, he was also a highly innovative defensive coach. Landry is credited with developing the modern 4-3 defense, defining the role of safety, and developing the 2-gap defense. Dick Nolan helped Landry develop the Flex defense, a precursor of the modern 3-4. Mike Nolan played safety at Oregon and coached linebacker and defensive line at Stanford, Rice & LSU, before his Cowboys connections landed him a job as linebackers coach for Dan Reeves. With the Broncos he coached under both Joe Collier and Wade Phillips, learning the 2-gap Fairbanks system as well as the 1-gap Phillips system. When Dan Reeves left Denver to coach the NYG (OK he was fired from Denver) Nolan went with him to become the DC. Despite having no all pro players (which is hard to believe since Michael Strahan and Jesse Armstead were on these teams) Nolan's defense consistently ranked in the upper half of the league. From 1997 – 1999 Nolan was defensive coordinator of the Redskins. The year before he took over, the Redskins were 28th in the NFL in total yards. In 1997, under Nolan, they ranked 16th in total yards and 8th in scoring. The following two years the struggled on both sides of the ball. In 2000 Nolan left the Redskins to be the coordinator for the Jets. This was a season of turmoil. Bill Belichick resigned as HC after one day (supposedly writing his resignation on a napkin) and his replacement Al Groh, left at the end of the season to coach UVA. Despite the turmoil, Nolan's defense managed to finish 10th in yardage.
After the 2000 season Nolan went to the Ravens as receivers coach. When Marvin Lewis to be DC at the Redskins, Nolan was tabbed as his replacement. Initially the ravens slumped as Nolan changed systems, but the rebounded in 2003 & 2004 to return as one of the leagues elite defenses. Nolan is credited with developing Adelius Thomas, Terrel Suggs, and Bart Scott while with the Ravens.
In 2005 the 49ers selected the son of their former coach as the new head coach. Despite Nolan's background in defense, the 49ers continued to be anemic on defense as well as offense. Midway through the 2008 season he was fired as head coach.
What's to like
- Roots to the Broncos
- Has shown he can take awful defenses and make them passable
- Has shown he can take great personnel and run a great defense
- Has shown the ability to develop atypical players (i.e. Jarvis Moss)
- Experience with multiple systems
What's to be concerned about
- No history of taking poor defenses and making them great
- Never won the big one - he seems to join teams after their prime
- Stability - will he stick around or is this just a safe place till the next HC gig