Falcons hire Mike Nolan to lead defense

Falcons hire Mike Nolan to lead defense

Published Jan. 17, 2012 2:37 p.m. ET

ATLANTA -- For the second time in three days, Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith dipped into his rolodex to hire someone with whom he has previously worked to fill a coordinator spot.

This time, the name is much more high-profile: Mike Nolan, the former head coach of the San Francisco 49ers who most recently served as the Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator in 2010 and 2011. On Sunday, Smith hired Dirk Koetter, with whom he worked in Jacksonville, as the offensive coordinator to replace Mike Mularkey, who became the Jaguars' head coach last week.

It was the Falcons' second coaching move of the day, as earlier they parted ways with offensive line coach Paul Boudreau.

Smith got his start in the NFL as a defensive assistant and defensive line coach with Baltimore from 1999 to 2001 and then linebackers coach in 2002. Nolan worked on the Ravens' staff from 2001 to 2004, serving as defensive coordinator for the final three seasons.

One of the interesting subplots to Nolan's hire will be whether the Falcons choose to change from a 4-3 from to a 3-4. When asked that question the day after his team was eliminated 24-2 by the New York Giants, Smith only noted that the team's personnel was drafted to play a 4-3.

In a statement announcing the hiring on Tuesday, Smith noted that Nolan "has a history of developing physically intimidating defensive units."

Miami finished 15th in defense but third in rush defense and 10th in sacks. (The Falcons finished tied for 19th in sacks.) Miami also finished sixth in the NFL in scoring defense at 19.6 points per game. The year before, the Dolphins finished top ten in the NFL in overall defense, run defense and pass defense.

Issues with rushing the passer have led to the team's inability to finish higher in pass defense than No. 20 in the league since Smith arrived. Nolan replaces Brian VanGorder, who was the Falcons' defensive coordinator for Smith's first four seasons. VanGorder's departure to become defensive coordinator at Auburn University was made official the day after the Falcons were eliminated from the playoffs.

In parts of four seasons as head coach of the 49ers, Nolan posted an 18-37 record. His teams never posted a winning season and he was fired after a 2-5 start to the 2008 season.

He also has worked on the staff of former Falcons coach Dan Reeves, both with the Denver Broncos and New York Giants, where he became the league's youngest defensive coordinator at age 34 in 1993.

On offense, the Falcons have numerous roles to fill now in remaking their staff. In addition to Tuesday's departure of Boudreau, they also must find a quarterbacks coach. Former quarterbacks coach Bob Bratkowski left with Mularkey to be Jacksonville's offensive coordinator.

Boudreau, a 25-year NFL veteran, preached a physical style that at times earned the unit a reputation from opponents for dirty play. But his units were effective. This season his unit allowed only 13 sacks over the final 13 games and helped Michael Turner to become the league's third-leading rusher.

However, this year some of the team's younger players did not continue to develop as hoped. Left tackle Sam Baker, a first-round pick in 2008, regressed and lost his job in midseason. The Falcons also had difficulty developing a replacement at right guard for former starter Harvey Dahl, who left via free agency before the season.

Garrett Reynolds, who won the job out of camp, lost his job in midseason to Joe Hawley, whose natural position is center. Seemingly dissatisfied with Hawley's performance at that position, the Falcons tried Baker at that position but quickly scrapped the idea.

Boudreau and Smith were on the same staff together in Jacksonville before coming to Atlanta.

Smith only said in a statement that, "We would like to thank coach Boudreau for his contributions to our team over the past four seasons, and we wish him well in his future endeavors."