Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ace in the Hole: Dolphins Tab Mike Nolan as Defensive Coordinator

Toward the end of last week, the Miami Dolphins' search for a new defensive coordinator was looking grim.

Potential candidates Mike Zimmer and Romeo Crennel had already taken other jobs, and the team's top two prospects—Al Groh and Keith Butler—turned down the Dolphins' offer.

Just when fans were beginning to resign to the fact that an in-house promotion of secondary coach Todd Bowles was likely, everything changed in one 24-hour period.

Less than a day after a "mutual parting of ways" between the Denver Broncos and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, the Dolphins pounced and inked the former NFL head coach to a deal.

An experienced defensive coach with a long history with the 3-4 scheme, Nolan replaced Paul Pasqualoni, who was fired after two years on the job and a steep decline in 2009.

Background

The son of former NFL head coach Dick Nolan, Mike Nolan was a three-year starter at safety for the University of Oregon.

Following his playing career, Nolan spent six years as a coach at the collegiate level. After spending one season as a graduate assistant at Oregon in 1981, Nolan coached the linebackers at Stanford for two seasons, the defensive line at Rice in 1984, and the linebackers at LSU through 1986.

Nolan made the jump to the NFL in 1987, joining Dan Reeves' staff with the Denver Broncos as linebackers coach. Reeves had previously played for a Dallas Cowboys' staff that included Nolan's father as defensive coordinator in the 1960s.

Nolan then served a series of defensive coordinator jobs, with the New York Giants (1993–1996), Washington Redskins (1997–1999), New York Jets (2000), and Baltimore Ravens (2002–2004). Nolan's stint with the Jets was under general manager Bill Parcells and head coach Al Groh.

Upon receiving his first head-coaching job with the San Francisco 49ers in 2005, Nolan directed his team to a 4–12 record and last-place finish in the NFC West. After two more losing seasons, Nolan was fired seven games into the 2008 regular season, finishing his Niners stint with an 18–37 record.

Nolan was hired as the Denver Broncos' defensive coordinator under new head coach Josh McDaniels in 2009.

Despite guiding his unit to a No. 7 ranking in yards allows and No. 12 ranking in points allowed, the Broncos and Nolan agreed to part ways on January 18, 2010.

Analysis

Man, oh man, did I not see this one coming!

I, like a lot of Dolphins fans, was hoping for a big-name guy that could bring some new ideas to the team. All hope seemed to be lost after Groh and Butler turned Miami down, and I was expecting Todd Bowles to be promoted to the job within the week.

Then the Denver Broncos gave the Dolphins a late (or really early) Christmas present, allowing the man who turned one of the league's worst defenses in 2008 into a top-10 unit in 2009 to simply walk away.

Nolan has a great history as a defensive coordinator in this league, and has long run one of the NFL's best attacking 3-4 schemes. While Pasqualoni also ran the 3-4 in Miami, his teams have been known to be a little too laid back at times.

Nolan does wonders with personnel, turning Aubrayo Franklin into one of the NFL's best nose tackles and Patrick Willis into a Defensive Rookie of the Year in San Francisco, while helping Broncos linebacker Elver Dumervil realize his potential with an NFL-best 17 sacks in 2009.

He should also help draw in free agents on the defensive side of the ball, and help the Dolphins' linebacker corps (hopefully with some new faces) improve in all facets of the games.

I'm excited in particular to see what he can do for the progression of Cameron Wake, who had a solid rookie season rushing the passer, but still needs help against the run and in coverage.

All in all, Nolan is a superb hire for the Dolphins that should go a long way in improving a mediocre defense in 2009.

His hiring is also yet another example of why, no matter how bad things look, you can never underestimate a Bill Parcells-led front office.

Discuss Mike Nolan's hiring on the forum here!