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An In-Depth Look at Mike Nolan’s Departure

Mike Nolan proved one heck of a “get” for the Miami Dolphins at the beginning of the 2010 off season.  Nolan had coached 1 year in Denver as defensive coordinator after being fired midseason by the San Francisco Forty Niners in 2008.  Nolan replaced then Miami defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni, giving the Dolphins some coaching credibility and experience.

Nolan spent two seasons with the Miami Dolphins as defensive coordinator in which he managed to comeback (this season) from a horrid 0-7 skid to almost blanking the Chiefs and getting the right mix of players defending the run and pass.  Miami finished the 2011 season ranked 6th in points allowed and seldom allowed a 100 yard rusher.  Nolan was applauded for his use of exotic blitzes out of the three and four technique, something that the Dolphins have the player personnel to accomplish due to size and speed.

However, Mike Nolan until today was set to be a Miami Dolphin defensive coordinator for the 2012 season since he was under contract.  While there was much rumor and innuendo of Nolan to be named as DC in Atlanta, New Orleans, or Tampa; Nolan was quick to land on his feet and bring his 3-4 defense to the Atlanta Falcons because of his close relationship with Coach Mike Smith (they served on the defensive staff together in Baltimore).

As the defensive coordinator in Miami, the talk this off season was why didn’t Nolan get a chance to at least interview for the position of Dolphins Head Coach.  The first knock against Nolan was his 2008 season was marred by a firing at midseason by current San Francisco Forty Niner president Jed York.  Additionally, Nolan was fresh off the firing and fresh off of an apparent personality squabble in Denver where then head coach Josh McDaniels was in charge of personnel and dictated the movement of player personnel; agreed to give Nolan the lateral transfer to the Dolphins.

In 2010, the Dolphins were right to get Nolan from the Broncos and establish a very powerful and imposing identity on the defensive side of the ball.  Defensive monsters such as Paul Soliai, Jared Odrick, Kendall Langford, and Karlos Dansby thrived under Nolan’s defensive schemes in that they stopped the run and pressured the quarterback multiple times per game.  The debut of the Dolphin defense under Nolan resulted in a 15-10 defeat of the Buffalo Bills one in which rookie Jared Odrick and Karlos Dansby made their prescence felt.  Nolan’s defense followed up the defensive effort with a stoppage of Adrian Peterson and the Vikings in week 2.  However, the Defensive schemes in 2010 were out numbered in losses to the Jets (once), Patriots (twice), Browns(4th quarter), Lions (4th quarter), Steelers (4th quarter), Bears, and Bills (4th quarter).  Nolan’s 2010 campaign lacked finishing off teams in the fourth quarter and letting close victories slip away.

In 2011, the Dolphins slow start could be attributed to a lack of defensive depth at the linebacker and corner position and a lack of conditioning and toughness necessary to combat the weapons on the Patriots, Giants, Chargers, Texans, and Jets.  The Dolphins began the season 0-7 largely in part for not finishing teams in the 4th quarter losing to the Browns, Broncos (blew 15-0 in 7 minutes), and Giants teams that Miami was dominating defensively until the final 2 minutes. 

While Nolan’s players performed to the bitter end of every game, the current regime Jeff Ireland and Stephen Ross may have ordered the change by giving Nolan an out in his contract thus giving Nolan room to seek other opportunities. Perhaps this opt out in the contract was provided initially by Nolan’s agent should Sparano be fired during Nolan’s term as a defensive coordinator.  One could only guess.

It is unclear, why Nolan did not at least get an interview, but one can surmise that the past experience in San Francisco of squabbles with ownership and a direct mishandling of player and personnel may have led to Miami thinking twice on interviewing him for the job.

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