Possible DC Candidates With NFL Experience for the Oakland Raiders

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Nov 9, 2014; Tampa, FL, USA; Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan talk with inside linebacker Paul Worrilow (55) against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Atlanta Falcons defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27-17. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

5. Mike Nolan

Mike Nolan is a name that has been linked to Del Rio and the Raiders job ever since Nolan was let go in Atlanta earlier in the month. Nolan is an incredibly experienced coach who started working as a GA in 1981 at Oregon and has been coaching in the NFL since 1987.

Nolan worked with Jack Del Rio very briefly and not very closely – Nolan was WR’s coach in Baltimore when Jack Del Rio was the LB’s coach there.  Nolan was, however, the Defensive Coordinator for Del Rio’s buddy Mike Smith in Atlanta, and of course knows Raiders OL coach Mike Tice from their time there together. Also, Nolan is, like Del Rio, a suit aficionado, as the two both were known to wear suits on the sidelines in 2006.

Nolan got his NFL start as a Special Teams and Linebackers coach under Dan Reeves in 1987 in Denver.  Working with linebackers, Nolan had a chance to work with three-time All-Pro Karl Mecklenburg, who had 7 sacks, 3 picks and 96 tackles in 1987. His second year in Denver, punter Mike Horan was named first team All-Pro and Mecklenburg had 102 tackles despite missing seven games.  In 1989, Wade Phillips was hired as the Broncos defensive coordinator, and Nolan would work under him for the next four season.

Denver again returned to the Super Bowl in 1989, and three Denver linebackers were credited with over 100 tackles, including Mecklenburg, who added 7.5 sacks and was named first team All-Pro as the Denver defense was the top scoring defense in the league and ranked 3rd in yards allowed. Kicker David Treadwell also made the Pro Bowl that year. Throughout Nolan’s tenure in Denver, Karl Mecklenberg and linebackers like Michael Brooks and Simon Fletcher put up astounding numbers, though tackle numbers are unofficial and not evenly recorded.

But it was clear that linebacker play was one of the strengths of those Denver teams, and the linebackers produced during Nolan’s tenure as LB’s coach. Karl Mecklenberg recorded 37 sacks and went to three Pro Bowls in six seasons with Nolan. Simon Fletcher had 65.5 sacks in that time, including a career-high of 16 in 1992. Michael Brooks had a Pro Bowl season in 1992, credited with a staggering 175 tackles that season.

In 1993, Nolan followed Dan Reeves to New York, where he was named Defensive Coordinator of the New York Giants. He inherited a group of extremely talented players at the beginning or end of their careers: Lawrence Taylor was 34 years old, and Michael Strahan was a 22 year old rookie on Nolan’s defensive roster.

Despite his defense not boasting a single Pro Bowler that year, Nolan’s defense finished fifth in the league in total defense and was the best scoring defense in the NFL. To account for his personnel, Nolan began running a 4-3 base look in 1994, and his defense finished the year ranked 11th in total defense and 8th in scoring. His defense was not particularly active in terms of sacks and turnovers, but finished eight in the league against the pass and allowed a 3.9 yard per carry rushing average.

In 1995 the defense finished 17th in the league with a horrible showing against the run, but was the fourth-best pass defense in the NFL. His 1996 unit finished in the middle of the pack, but forced 35 turnovers, and picked off 23 passes, both numbers near the top of the league. The team finished 6-10 that year, however, and Dan Reeves was let go.

Nolan was immediately tapped to go be Norv Turner’s defensive coordinator in Washington, and helped the defense there improve from 28th in 1996 to 16th in 1997. Rush linebacker Ken Harvey had two Pro Bowl seasons under Nolan, totalling 18.5 sacks in those two years. Veteran defensive back Chris Dishman also enjoyed one last Pro Bowl year under Nolan in 1997.  But despite acquiring Dan Wilkinson and Dana Stubblefield going into the 1998 season, Nolan’s defenses fell apart over the next two years, especially against the run.

After finishing 30th in total defense in 1999, Nolan was fired and replaced by Ray Rhodes. Nolan spent a year with the Jets in 2000 under Al Groh (Todd Bowles was one of his assistants), but was one and done after Herm Edwards replaced Groh in 2001.

In 2001, Nolan spent a year coaching wide receivers in Baltimore, his first ever experience as an offensive coach. It was in Baltimore that he met Jack Del Rio and Mike Smith, who were both on the defensive staff, along with Marvin Lewis and Rex Ryan. Quadry Ismail had a career year in 2001 with Nolan as his position coach. Nolan then became the defensive coordinator of the Ravens in 2002, with Rex Ryan and Mike Smith working under him. Despite 25 interceptions by his defensive unit and a Pro Bowl season from Peter Boulware that year, 2002 was a rare bad year for the Baltimore defense, finishing the year ranked 22nd in the league as Ray Lewis missed 11 games.

Of course, Baltimore being Baltimore, Mike Nolan coached the defense to two years of being in the top six in the league in 2003 and 2004. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed both had Pro Bowl seasons both years, and Ray Lewis was a first team All-Pro in both years while Ed Reed was so honored in 2004. Chris McAlister also had a first-team All-Pro year with Nolan and he, Terrell Suggs, Peter Boulware and Adalius Thomas all enjoyed at least one Pro Bowl season under Nolan’s coaching. Nolan was so successful in Baltimore that he got his first head coaching gig – the San Francisco 49ers.

Nolan stepped in to a very high-pressure job in San Francisco, an organization that expected Super Bowls and just a couple years before had fired Steve Mariucci after a division title. The 49ers had gone 2-14 the year prior under Dennis Erickson and so Nolan inherited the first pick of the draft, which was used on Utah quarterback Alex Smith. Smith and the defensive-minded Nolan would be tasked with bringing the 49ers back from oblivion.

Nolan quite simply failed in San Francisco. Alex Smith never panned out, and Nolan’s 49ers never had a winning record. He was fired mid-season in 2008 and replaced with Mike Singletary, who led the team to a 5-4 record the rest of the way but credited Nolan with any success he had the remainder of the year.

Nolan did help build the 49ers that – once Jim Harbaugh showed up – went to three straight NFC title games and appeared in a Super Bowl. During his tenure, Nolan also enjoyed some responsibilities as a GM, and the team drafted Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, Dashon Goldson, Joe Staley and Patrick Willis.

After the run in San Francisco, Nolan spent a year with the wonderful Josh McDaniels in Denver in 2009. The Broncos defense finished 7th after having finished 29th the year prior, and three Bronco defenders made the Pro Bowl, including first team All-Pro Elvis Dumervil, who led the league with 17 sacks, still his career high.

Of course, Josh McDaniels asked Nolan to resign after the season. Nolan was right back in 2010 on Tony Sparano’s staff in Miami, where Nolan helped the defense improve from 22nd in the league to 6th in the league in total defense. Cameron Wake, in his second year, make the Pro Bowl after recording 14 sacks. Big man Randy Starks made his first Pro Bowl in 2010 as well. The defense finished a respectable 15th in 2011, but 3rd against the run, allowing only a 3.7 yard per carry average. Paul Soliai made the Pro Bowl that year. But of course, despite the good defense, Miami wasn’t doing very well, and Tony Sparano got fired with three games remaining. In 2012, Joe Philbin and his staff were in, Nolan was back out.

Nolan’s most recent tour of duty is probably his least successful as a defensive coordinator. Hired by his old buddy Mike Smith before the 2012 season, Nolan spent three years as the defensive coordinator in Atlanta. In three years, the Atlanta defense has not finished higher than 24th in the the NFL in total defense, and last year finished dead last.

The Falcons struggled against both the pass and the run over the last three years, and have been generally poor in creating pressure on opposing quarterbacks. With Smith fired and Dan Quinn expected to replace him, Nolan is likely done in Atlanta.

Despite his poor showing the last three years in Atlanta – where management never really invested in getting quality defensive talent – Nolan is one of the best defensive coordinators in the league, and has tons of experience working with some of the top players in the game and helping them get to their peak. Nolan has connections to the current Raiders staff through Del Rio and Tice, but also is connected strongly to the Jets because of Todd Bowles, his former assistant.

With the Falcons playing hardball with their coaches while waiting to finalize the deal with Dan Quinn, it may be some time before Nolan is cut loose to take a new position, or even interview, and Jack Del Rio may not want to wait that long. Still, if Mike Smith isn’t available, Nolan is likely the next-best thing.  Nolan can run whatever defense his personnel dictate, whether it be 3-4 or 4-3 front, and knows how to use his players to get the best production out of them. A Nolan hire will set Jack Del Rio free to run the team rather than worrying about managing the defense.

Next: Candidate #6: Wade Phillips