Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Mike Nolan leaves for Falcons; Dolphins finalists revealed?

Not only did the Miami Dolphins miss out on their biggest head-coaching pursuit in Jeff Fisher (although that's not necessarily a bad thing), but now they've lost their best assistant coach as defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has taken the same position with the Atlanta Falcons.

Similar to how Nolan was let out of his contract with the Denver Broncos to take the job with the Dolphins in 2010, Miami had the ability to retain Nolan for the 2012 season but instead opted to let him pursue another opportunity.

Although Nolan has run the 3-4 scheme throughout his coordinator career, the Falcons will apparently keep the 4-3 scheme under head coach Mike Smith. Nolan and Smith were assistants together on Brian Billick's staff with the Baltimore Ravens in 2001 and 2002.

It's a significant loss for the Dolphins, as Nolan was one of the best defensive coordinators in all of football and had commanded one of the league's best units over the past two seasons.

Despite a slow start in 2011 after a lockout-plagued offseason, Nolan's unit has performed quite well overall and finished he year on a high note, ranking third in the NFL in run defense and sixth in scoring defense. The team had the No. 7 run defense in 2010.

It remains to be seen who will replace Nolan in Miami, and that may depend on who the team ends up hiring as head coach. It's possible the team might try to land an offensive-minded head coach and then retain interim head coach Todd Bowles as defensive coordinator.

Previously the team's assistant head coach/secondary coach, it would actually be Bowles' first coordinator job at the NFL level. The only in-house assistant with pro experience as a defensive coordinator is linebackers coach Bill Sheridan, although he faltered in that role with the Giants in 2009 before joining the Dolphins.

Whoever it is, I certainly hope they keep the 3-4 scheme intact and continue to build on the defense's recent success. While there are still some holes to fill—in particular at pass rusher and safety—there is a lot of talent on that side of the ball and the unit is already good enough to make a playoff run.

And then there were three

To recap a pretty busy Tuesday in Dolphins-related news:
  • Bears' special-teams coordinator Dave Toub has re-upped with his old team
  • Bengals' defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is apparently out of the running for the Dolphins' gig
  • The Dolphins are down to three finalists: interim head coach Todd Bowles, Broncos' offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, and Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin
  • Bowles, McCoy and Philbin will conduct second interviews with Stephen Ross this week in New York
If true, the Dolphins are passing on any other candidates, such as Saints' offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, Jr. However, it is notable that the two candidates aside from the interim head coach are both offensive-minded guys.

As someone suggested on twitter, the plan could be to hire either McCoy or Philbin as head coach and have them focus on the offense, with the goal to be to retain Bowles as defensive coordinator. Bowles interviewed for the Rams' head coaching job and is also reportedly a candidate in Indianapolis and Oakland.

Of the three, I'd most prefer Philbin to be named head coach. McCoy scares me a bit because of his experience with Dan Henning, who was a painful offensive coordinator with the Dolphins. Even though Philbin doesn't call the plays in Green Bay, I get the impression he can be a good team manager and I'd be willing to roll the dice on an up-an-coming head coach from a winning franchise.

Regardless, it seems we might end up with a new head coach being announced at some point this week, at which time there is sure to be a ton of cheering and complaining as we try and figure out which direction this franchise is headed.

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