Niners tab Nolan as next head coach

Posted: Tuesday, January 18, 2005

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Mike Nolan's lineage on and off the field made him an ideal choice to rebuild the San Francisco 49ers.

The Baltimore defensive coordinator accepted his first head coaching job Monday and began to negotiate a contract to take over the team that had the NFL's worst record last season.

Nolan, a longtime coordinator for four teams, is the son of former 49ers coach Dick Nolan, who led the franchise to its first playoff victory during eight seasons in charge of a once-proud franchise that finished this season 2-14, tying the worst record in franchise history.

As his resume attests, the 45-year-old Nolan has plenty of experience and plenty of patience — and he'll need both in San Francisco. Nolan will replace Dennis Erickson, fired earlier in the month after going 9-23 in two seasons.

After wowing 49ers owner John York in an interview Thursday, Nolan flew to York's home in Ohio on Monday to work out a deal.

''(York) had a good, strong list of candidates, and they felt that Mike was the perfect candidate to lead us into the future,'' 49ers spokesman Kirk Reynolds said.

Nolan, who will be the 15th head coach in 49ers history, didn't return a call to his cell phone. York also didn't return calls.

General manager Terry Donahue was fired along with Erickson, and Nolan will have a hand in picking Donahue's successor. York has said he planned to hire a coach with broad personnel powers, supplemented by a general manager who concentrates on salary cap issues.

Nolan is a protege of Dan Reeves, who hired the former Oregon safety for his first NFL job with the Denver Broncos in 1987. Reeves then made Nolan one of the youngest coordinators in league history with the Giants in 1993.

''It's a good fit,'' said Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, who played his first four NFL seasons under Nolan and Reeves. ''I loved him back then, and I love him still. I'm glad he's finally getting that opportunity. It's probably a little later than I thought.''

Though Reeves cut him late in his only training camp as a player with Denver in 1981, Nolan has coached offense, defense and special teams during 19 seasons in the NFL. He has been a prime candidate for several head coaching spots in recent years.

Nolan has been with the Ravens since 2001, coaching the receivers for one season before leading their powerful defense for the past three years. Baltimore ranked sixth in the NFL in total defense last season.

''I think he's ready,'' Reeves said in a telephone interview from his Atlanta home. ''He has certainly done a great job the last couple of years.''

Though the 49ers will have the top pick in the next draft, along with an estimated $20 million in room under the salary cap, Nolan isn't entering a perfect situation.

He'll take over a franchise that has suffered sharp declines in wins, popularity, talent base and league-wide esteem in the six seasons since York, a pathologist and businessman with no football background, wrested control of the team from his brother-in-law, Eddie DeBartolo.

But Nolan's hiring could evoke better times for the franchise, which once won five Super Bowls in 14 years. Dick Nolan went 56-56-5 in eight seasons as the 49ers' coach from 1968-75, winning three straight division championships and reaching two NFC title games.

''(Mike Nolan) has been around football all his life, and they're very much alike in a lot of ways,'' Reeves said. ''He has coached special teams. He has coached offense, defense, and now I think all those things are going to pay dividends.''

Before joining Brian Billick's staff in Baltimore, Nolan was the defensive coordinator with the New York Jets (2000), Washington (1997-99) and the Giants (1993-96).

''When I was with the Redskins, out at practice he was always running around everywhere with tons of energy,'' said 49ers linebacker Derek Smith, who played for Nolan in his first three NFL seasons. ''Then after we got done with practice, you would come in and see the guy working out on some piece of cardiovascular equipment, and working out like crazy for 45 minutes.

''He is such an intense guy. The thing about him, though, at his core, he is a good person. He is such a solid individual.''

Nolan was interviewed by York and two of the few remaining members of the 49ers' front office. He was offered the job Monday morning, beating out four other candidates: New England defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, thought to be Cleveland's top choice; Giants defensive coordinator Tim Lewis; and Tennessee coordinators Mike Heimerdinger and Jim Schwartz.

Southern California coach Pete Carroll, thought to be York's top choice after he fired Erickson, apparently was never contacted by the 49ers after initially saying he wasn't interested.

York called Smith and a few other players to inform them of his decision on Monday morning.

''I think it signals to the fans and to the players that Dr. York is making a very honest effort to do the things that he should do to make this team better,'' Smith said. ''I think that this selection is someone who they did their homework on, and they saw that he had all the right tools to come in and be a great head coach, and I think that was a very good assessment.''

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