AtlantaFalcons.com begins its Five Questions series this week with members of the Falcons coaching staff. We kick things off with defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, who brings a resume loaded with experience and success to a group of personnel that is on the uptick. Nolan's personal philosophies on coaching could help push the unit to the next level.
Jay Adams: In the earlier stages of the offseason, what are some of the things you look for out of your players and how much was that time used to acquaint yourself with the personnel you've got to work with?
Mike Nolan: First off, what I'd like to see out of them is a lot of energy, and there is energy. There's always excitement, I think, in a new system. Outside of that, the thing I think that both groups — the players and the coaches — are always working on at this time is trust in one another. The players are working on the trust around them, and so are the coaches. It's kind of a deep topic, but at the same time, that's going on 24/7. If the guys can really trust the things around them and the scheme, it helps them be a good player, which is what they're learning right now. They buy into it a little bit more. At some point, hopefully they take ownership of it and then it really takes off, but in these early stages, you're just trying to get them to learn the system, learn the language and in the process, build a lot of trust and accountability among all the players.
JA: I've heard a couple of veteran players remark already that they're able to get your system down to the point where they're able to play it fast. How much, as a player, does feeling confident in a system go into playing in a way that is almost instinctual?
MN: I think it's really key. It's vital to being really good. There's a lot of good schemes in the NFL, but if the guys don't execute it fast and they're thinking about it and all that stuff, then you might have a good bag of tricks but it's not working because there's too much thinking going on. You have to get it to the point where, first off, you have to simplify the teaching. You can't have 10 different words for the same thing and you can't have words mean absolutely nothing. There has to be that to play fast, so I'd like to think it's that, but again, it's a process. There's some things we play faster than other right now because they've done them maybe before, but there's some new things we need to play fast that, in the process, that's really our goal through all these OTAs and training camp and minicamp. To be honest with you, some teams don't gel until the middle of the season. I've been a part of those several times and that's just the way it is. But as we all know, we're trying to finish the race good as much as start it, but the finish is the important thing. But I think you can get to that point a lot quicker — what I mean is get to that experience, play fast, play quick — if it's easy to learn and we're teaching it right, they're studying it, learning it and we have good players.
JA: How would you describe your personel style on coaching pro athletes as someone who has been around them for most of your life?
MN: Coaching is parenting. It really is, and if the players know you love them and you're trying to give them the best, you can have any style you want. But if they know you love them, they pretty much buy what you're giving them, but if they think you're selfish or if they think what you're doing is covering your own tail and they see you don't support them and things like that, they don't buy it. I don't care how nice you are, how mean you are, how loud you are, how quiet you are. I think young people really see that, so in my opinion, they've got to know you care but that's not one day, two days — that's a process. It's no different than us with the players. There's certain players I feel I can trust better than others. They all have their different personalities, but I've got to know that they're buying in so I can give them more, and if they're not, then I've got to know why it is. If it's my fault they're not buying in or a coach's fault, we've got to get that corrected, meaning if that guy doesn't trust that coach, then something's not gelling on that thing. Like I said, coaching is parenting, in my opinion, 100 percent, and they need to know you love them. I've seen guys just cuss players unmercifully and think, 'Oh, my God,' but the player just knows it's a bunch of hot air and they know that coach supports them and loves them, and they buy it so it doesn't bother them. But I've seen some other guys use some language and they kind of go, 'Hey, Coach, you're not going to do that to me,' so it has to do with the relationship between the two. That's one thing all my year's have taught me and that's really true.
JA: You said back when you were hired by the Falcons that you'd rather have 10 guys with four sacks than four guys with 10 sacks. How do you put players in the position to have that kind of success across the board, and do you feel like you have the personnel here to do that?
MN: I don't know. That's something I can't answer. That's one of the things that, while they're learning about me, I'm learning about them, too. But I'll take either one. That's what scheme's all about. Scheme is second; players are first, and the scheme you use needs to utilize your players. Some guys can pressure and you want to use them; some guys aren't very good blitzers. Some guys are better at covering, some guys are better at man — everybody has a bit of a strength, and if you stick them all in a box and say they can or can't do this or that, that can be a mistake also, so it's real important that you identify guys properly and the better you do that, and the better you do using the scheme, which is nothing more than a bunch of tools, then you put together a pretty good deal. Like I've said, it's a process all the time. There's things I feel better about today than I did two months ago, but in two months from now, I should feel a little bit better, as well. I'm hoping, anyhow, as long as the guys stay the same. Injuries and a lot of stuff comes into play, but it's a process and it's fun. They learn and get better, and so do we.
JA: Sean Weatherspoon in his first two years has really come a long way. In your short time that you've been around him, what do you see as the ceiling for him and how much more growing does he have left to do?
MN: He's a good player now, but he could be a lot better than he is. And he will be. No question, because he loves football and he's exciting to watch and he's a play-maker, for all those reasons. But he's done well, but he can still do a lot better. I'm not just saying that because that's the blanket statement for people, but as I'm watching him, he's got a lot of upside, so as much good as you've seen, he's got a lot of good in there going forward. Primarily, what I see is a guy who just loves to play, but in the new system, he's still trying to learn the language and things like that, so there's some way to go, but he'll find it very friendly and I think he already does see, down the road, how exciting it can be in this system, because a lot of guys have benefitted from it. He's got what it takes to get there. It takes a little bit of time, but like I said, he's already a good player. It's one thing when a guy's not very good and you're just hoping to get him to the point where he can just get on the field. He's already on the field and he's been a good player, so you're just looking for him to make some strides where he can be a guy that, in some cases, wins the game for you.