Nolan is a well-respected defensive mind coming off his second season serving as the defensive coordinator of the Falcons. However, he has yet to achieve great success here in Atlanta. The Falcons defense finished 27th in both total and scoring defense in 2013. That follows a year in which the team managed to finish fifth in scoring defense based off points allowed, but 24th in total defense based off yards allowed. The Falcons have struggled to stop the run under Nolan, ranking 31st this past year in rushing yards allowed, after a 2012 season that saw the team ranked 24th.
Respect for Nolan stems from his stints prior to his arrival in Atlanta. The last time he coached a defense that finished in the top 10 in both scoring and total defense was in 2004 when he was the defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens. He was able to catapult that success to become the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers in 2005. There, he compiled an 18-37 record over four seasons thanks in part to defenses that were typically ranked near the bottom of league. In 2009, he became the defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos, helping that team rank seventh and 12th in total and scoring defense, respectively. In 2010, he joined the Miami Dolphins staff as defensive coordinator where they finished in the top 15 in both categories in each season. Prior to his promotion to the Ravens defensive coordinator in 2002, Nolan had served as a defensive coordinator with three teams over eight seasons: New York Jets (2000), Washington Redskins (1997-99), and New York Giants (1993-96).