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Cowboys hire former Falcons DC Mike Nolan for same role in Dallas

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Nolan’s bend-but-don’t-break defense was a success in 2012 but fell apart in 2013 and 2014.

Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Remember Mike Nolan? When we last saw him, his reputation as a defensive whiz was engulfed in the red and black flames only the Falcons can provide, having gone from a toasted defensive coordinator in 2012 to getting run out of town with the rest of the coaching staff after 2014.

Now he’s back as a defensive coordinator, unexpectedly, for the Dallas Cowboys. Nolan had been a linebackers coach since leaving Atlanta, spending an ill-fated stint in 2015 with the Chargers before revitalizing the Saints’ moribund linebacker group from 2017 through this year. He’s an unorthodox hire for new Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy, who got back on teams’ radar by promising he’d learned and become more innovative since the Packers unceremoniously dumped him following the 2018 season.

Nolan had some masterful games in Atlanta during his first season, where the amoeba defense he employed used a lot of smoke and mirrors to confuse players as great as Peyton Manning into real mistakes. Predictably, the novelty wore off after a while and Nolan could not overcome the Falcons’ crippling lack of defensive talent, and 2014 saw them bottom out after the ill-advised additions of beefy defensive linemen and not much else. Nolan has not had an NFL defensive coordinator gig since then.

Looking back at his career, he’s been a good defensive coordinator most of his career, though true greatness predictably did not travel with him from the 2002-2004 Baltimore Ravens to his other stops. He did nice work with the Broncos in 2009, Dolphins in 2010 and 2011, and Falcons in 2012, but he would not have been the bright defensive mind I would have hired if I were Mike McCarthy. We’ll see if that disastrous Falcons defense unfairly doomed his prospects of getting a better job over the last few years or not in 2020.