Mike Nolan has seen his share of the NFL. Among his nine stops at the NFL as a coach, he's spent time as a linebackers coach, wide receivers coach and a head coach. Outside of those roles, Nolan has spent 14 years as a defensive coordinator in the league. That's long enough to see a lot of what the NFL has to offer and learn how to counter it.
It appears that one of Nolan's best assets is his ability to identify what is and isn't working and correct it with results on the field. In each of Nolan's stops as a coordinator before Atlanta, the coach assumed a roster that was producing at an average or below-average level. In each instance, often with little changeover on the roster, Nolan piloted a turnaround on defense.
Perhaps Nolan's best turnaround job was in Denver in 2009. There he took over a defense that ranked 30th in the NFL in points allowed. When the season ended, the Broncos' defense ranked 12th. Nolan use three defensive additions to the existing roster to help turn around Denver's defense. That season he was also calling the plays that saw defensive end Elvis Dummervil have a breakout season with 17 sacks.
Nolan moved to Miami in 2010 and took the Dolphins from 25th to 14th in points allowed with one key free agent addition, inside linebacker Karlos Dansby. The coordinator kept the arrow pointing up in 2011 when he helped improve things again, moving to sixth in the NFL in points allowed.
As Baltimore's coordinator from 2002 to 2004, Nolan inherited a talented defense. The season before he joined the Ravens were ranked 4th in the NFL in points allowed. In 2002, they dropped to 19th, but with an influx of young talent to the defense, many of whom still make up the team's defensive core, he took them to 6th in 2003 and 2004.
In Atlanta, Nolan takes over a top-ranked run defense, but an overall defense that allowed 350 points in 2011, ranked 18th. Like in his other positions, he takes over a roster that has talent and youth, exactly the kind of defense Nolan has made a name for himself coaching to new highs in the NFL.