Falcons Nolan set to face familiar 49ers

December, 18, 2013
12/18/13
8:00
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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The next game on the Atlanta Falcons' schedule should carry a little added significance for defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.

Even if it does, Nolan won't let his emotions get in the way of his preparation.

For the second time in 16 games, Nolan will face a San Francisco franchise that once discarded him. He was the team's head coach from 2005-08, following in the footsteps of his father, Dick, who coached the 49ers from 1968-75.

[+] EnlargeAtlanta's Mike Nolan
AP Photo/David GoldmanFalcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has a long history with the San Francisco 49ers.
Mike Nolan compiled 18-37 record with the 49ers before being let go seven games into the '08 season. On Monday night, he'll return to Candlestick Park for what could be the last game at the historic stadium.

"It was special, it was unique to get the job back there because my father was the head coach," Nolan said. "I would say most of our successes, though, came off the field, which is disappointing from a professional standpoint because we never got to accumulate the wins on the field that you strive to get. But there was so much to be cleaned up and fixed that we spent an awful lot of time just getting ... trying to get a foundation built on a lot of things.

"Everything from strength training to the way we run the building to the way we carry out every day duties, to the schemes we used: all those things. And in the meantime, we were trying to accumulate the good players. Last year, when we played them (NFC Championship Game), I think there was at least seven starters on defense that were guys that we brought in. The part that you miss is the part that they all matured together and really became a strong unit. And they still are and will be for some time to go."

Nolan was in charge when the 49ers drafted core players such as running back Frank Gore, tight end Vernon Davis, and linebacker Patrick Willis, among others. Although he obviously relished the opportunity to lead such a storied franchise, reflecting on his time with the 49ers doesn't necessarily ignite Nolan's desire to become a head coach again.

"I don't think about it too much," he said. "I enjoy what I do. Not every job's a good job, whether it's the top of pinnacle head coach or whether it's the bottom as a quality control guy. Believe me some quality control jobs are better than head jobs. People won't say that, but they are."

The head-coaching position for the 49ers might not have been the ideal position, but the fact that his father held the same title made it a bit more special to Nolan. He once received the league's permission to wear a designer suit on the sideline in honor of his father, who passed away in 2007 at age 75.

The younger Nolan still remembers attending games at Kezar Stadium in 1970.

"I used to sit up in the section called the Christopher Milk section," Nolan recalled. "If you bought enough milk cartons and you tore the back of it off, you could get a free ticket.

"I don't know what it was: My dad, being the head coach, he wouldn't give me a ticket. So I had to go get milk cartons to get a ticket to get into the game."

At least at the 49ers' stadium he'll visit Monday night, Nolan won't have to worry about gaining entrance. He'll have an up-close view from the unfamiliar visitor's sideline.

Vaughn McClure

ESPN Atlanta Falcons reporter

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