ATLANTA — The Atlanta Falcons hired former San Francisco coach Mike Nolan as their defensive coordinator on Wednesday, hoping he can toughen up a unit that has rarely ranked among the NFL elite.
Nolan spent the last two seasons as Miami's defensive coordinator. Prior to that, he served four years as the 49ers head coach, following in the footsteps of his father.
In all, Nolan has been an NFL coordinator for 14 years. He takes over in Atlanta for Brian VanGorder, who returned to the college ranks to take the same position at Auburn.
The Falcons will have two new coordinators next season. Dirk Koetter was hired Sunday to run the offense after Mike Mularkey left to become head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
In another move toward revamping the staff for 2012, head coach Mike Smith announced that offensive line coach Paul Boudreau has been let go. The Falcons line struggled this season, most notably in an ugly 24-2 loss to the New York Giants in the opening round of the playoffs — a game in which Atlanta twice failed to convert on fourth-down quarterback sneaks by Matt Ryan.
The hiring of Nolan figures to be met with more enthusiasm in Atlanta than Smith bringing in Koetter to run an offense that has plenty of weapons but largely failed to meet expectations. Koetter had been the offensive coordinator in Jacksonville, which finished last in total offense and in yards passing.
Nolan's numbers are much more impressive. The Dolphins allowed the sixth-fewest points in the NFL (19.6 per game), ranked third in rushing yards (95.6) and tied for 10th with 41 sacks. The biggest question is how to mesh Nolan's preference for the 3-4 alignment with personnel that is built around Smith favoring the 4-3.
"Mike Nolan is an established coordinator in this league," Smith said in a statement. "Mike has a history of developing physically intimidating defensive units, and we are fortunate to have him join our staff."
The Falcons haven't ranked among the top 10 in yards allowed since 1998, their only Super Bowl season.
The 52-year-old Nolan didn't have much success as a head coach, going 18-37 with the 49ers — a stint that was perhaps most noteworthy for his desire to wear a suit on the sideline in honor of his father, former 49ers and New Orleans Saints coach Dick Nolan. The league initially resisted, citing its apparel contracts, but eventually worked out a new arrangement.
Nolan is regarded as one of the NFL's top defensive minds. He was only 34 when tapped by former Falcons coach Dan Reeves to take over as the Giants defensive coordinator in 1993. He's also served as a coordinator with Washington, the New York Jets, Baltimore and Denver.
In Baltimore, Nolan served on the same staff with Smith.