D coordinator Nolan getting settled with Dolphins
AP Sports Writer
DAVIE, Fla. (AP) – Mike Nolan apparently is no fan of defense. Which is surprising, given the career path he’s chosen.
He’s the Miami Dolphins’ defensive coordinator, remember. So when explaining his core philosophy on Friday, after the Dolphins completed the first practice of a three-day minicamp, Nolan broke out a term that a lot of coaches in his position probably wouldn’t use too often.
“You work towards being offensive,” Nolan said. “You don’t want to be defensive.”
To him, it makes sense. The Dolphins’ hierarchy obviously believes in Nolan’s thinking as well, proven by how swiftly they moved to close a deal with him January. Nolan’s hiring was announced by Miami – which also courted Al Groh and Keith Butler for the job – less than 24 hours after news broke of his departure from the Denver Broncos.
So between now and September’s start of the season, Nolan’s in a dual role. He’ll teach that offensive – in other words, aggressive – style of defense to the Dolphins, while continuing to get caught up on learning about players he inherited from the 2009 team and ones added since.
“I always had a great deal of respect for his defense and more importantly, his defensive philosophy,” Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said. “I always felt like those guys did a great job of changing the math on defense. When you felt like you had enough people to block them, there was always somebody else there.”
And as far as that “offensive” way of thinking about defense, Sparano totally understands.
“What he’s talking about there, people always think the offense is the team that pushes the tempo,” Sparano said. “They take it to you. To be offensive, you’ve got to be high-flying. You’ve got to be pushing the ball … and when Mike talks about being offensive, he talks about setting the pace and maybe dictating to the offense a little bit more as opposed to the other way around.”
Sparano and Nolan met just a few years ago, talking football at a combine. Unbeknownst to Sparano at the time, he was on Nolan’s list of possible candidates for a coordinator’s job in San Francisco. The two stayed in touch, even after Nolan got fired by the 49ers as their head coach in 2008.
Oddly, they’re together now as coach and coordinator, just now with Sparano sitting at the head of the table and Nolan serving as a lieutenant.
“He’s got a real good reputation,” Dolphins second-year cornerback Sean Smith said. “Everyone knows that.”
That he does, bolstered by more than two decades – or really, his entire life – around the NFL.
Nolan’s father, Dick Nolan, was a longtime NFL coach after his playing days ended, and took his kid to plenty of practices when he was growing up, the significance of which was lost on the boy at the time.
Naturally, it planted some seeds for which roads the kid would travel.
After four college stops as an assistant, Nolan’s time coaching in the NFL started with the Broncos in 1987. As a 35-year-old in 1993, he became the youngest defensive coordinator in the league when the Giants hired him. From there, he went to Washington, back to New York with the Jets, then four years with the Ravens (including one season coaching wide receivers) before the 49ers gave him the head coaching opportunity in 2005.
That stint, Nolan said, has made him a better coordinator.
Through being a head coach, Nolan has an “appreciation of what the other guy has to do,” he said. “Respect for that job.”
He spent last season in Denver, helping the Broncos to a quick 6-0 start, only to see the team fade down the stretch and miss the playoffs. The Dolphins defense – long the stronger side of the franchise – took some steps back in 2009 as well, and Bill Parcells decided to bring Nolan back to his side. Nolan worked for the Jets when Parcells ran the operation there.
“I’ve known the people here and I’ve respected the people here, whether it was (general manager Jeff Ireland), Bill, Tony, all three of those guys,” Nolan said. “I’ve probably known Bill the best when he was the GM of the Jets, but the other two guys, I knew as acquaintances and respected them.”
And the decision to come to Miami, Nolan said, was an easy one.
“I didn’t have a job,” Nolan said. “I needed a job, so there wasn’t too much thinking.”