Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan spent 3 1/2 seasons as 49ers head coach from 2005 to '08, during which time the 49ers were just 18-37. He was fired in the middle of the 2008 season, with Mike Singletary named to replace him.
During Nolan's tenure, the 49ers acquired nine players who will be in the 49ers' starting lineup on Sunday, including offensive players he must scheme against, such as running back Frank Gore, tight ends Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker, and tackle Joe Staley.
Nolan met with the Atlanta-area media on Tuesday, and here is what he had to say:
On coaching against his former team:
"I don't have any animosity towards them from a relationship standpoint, specifically. There are a lot of people there from ownership all the way down that I had personal relationships with. They've done a really nice job and obviously we're getting an opportunity to play them. I don't think that my history with them will play much into the game."
On whether his coaching experience at San Francisco has any impact in preparation for this week:
"It's been four years, but this is my third stop since then so there is a lot of water under the bridge from that standpoint. I've got great memories from that place, a lot of good things happened as well. Obviously getting fired is not a good thing, but, nonetheless, there are a lot of players still playing there that we added and that we'll get to see. I look forward to seeing them before the game. I'm glad they're doing well, and not only for the players, but for the organization. I put a lot of time and effort into that and so in a strange way it's a little rewarding as well that those guys are doing so well."
On playing a roll in the success of San Francisco because of the players he added as head coach:
"I can see that, because they're playing, which is good. It reinforces your commitment to building something and making players, so that's a good thing. They've all matured is basically what's happened. They were all very young back in the time with the exception of guys we added that were free agents like Justin Smith and [Ahmad] Brooks and a couple of other guys. Otherwise, the other guys were all just very young at the time so they've all matured and grown up. I've seen them a little bit over the years, some of them I still communicate with and text and things like that so I've maintained a relationship with a few of them. It is nice to see them doing well."
On what he learned from his experience as head coach in San Francisco:
"I've learned a ton of things, too many to really say. I would say, more importantly than what I learned from it is just the memory. The memory is a good one and a positive one and that's good. Like I said, even though it had an ending like it did, when you look at all the guys and how they're doing it's just great to see. When you're a coach you have a relationship with all of those guys and some of those relationships I've maintained and I still communicate with those guys."
On facing San Francisco for the first time since being fired:
"When I first got in the League I coached against my father who was also in the League too. I've coached against a lot of those guys on defense like Jim Tomsula and Ed Donatell and there are several other guys on that staff that I've worked with as well. The relationship thing, whether or not I've worked there, is everywhere I go now for the most part. There are a lot of people over there that I know but it doesn't change the competitive nature of the game and what we're doing. I don't want to sit here and tell you that it makes it any sweeter whether you win or lose. You want to win every week and I'm sure they do as well. There's nothing special in that regard. Like I said, I think it would be incorrect to say anything other than, for me, the reason I want to win is to go to the Super Bowl."
On whether his familiarity with players factors into his game planning:
"I don't want to game plan and all that. It's nice to know certain guys because you know how far they're going to go, but, I hate to say it, I wish that the guys we added didn't go as far because they're pretty good. It's really not a good thing I know that. Frank Gore is a good example on offense, Vernon Davis and all those guys are very good players. Looking back on it now, if we would have had a lot of bad ones maybe that would have been the way to go, but we didn't."
On the challenges Colin Kaepernick presents:
"He's more like Cam Newton probably than (Russell) Wilson. He's got great open field speed. He's probably as fast as any of the guys in the open field. He's elusive like the other guys but he's a bigger target. He's done an outstanding job. I think that Greg Roman, the offensive coordinator, does an outstanding job of utilizing the players' strengths. It's the same thing he did in college, that's what he did. I actually think it's been two years and running when I'm sure they've been doing that stuff in practice with him so that when he got the opportunity to play he would be using those skills. For the last eight weeks, I believe that's probably how many games he's started to this point; he's done an outstanding job. As you all see, and I see the same thing you see, as far as having the ability to not only run but to throw and command the offense as well as he has, but it's a similar offense to what he had in college. I don't want to say it's the same offense but it's similar. They've got different weapons around him and I think he uses those weapons very well. He's a chore. He's a game wrecker, as we would call him. He's a good player."
On Kaepernick's performance vs. Green Bay last week:
"We've faced a lot of them this year. I don't want to take anything away from Russell Wilson; he's a good player. There are a lot of them out there. We were fortunate enough during the season to play a lot of great quarterbacks as it was. I've got to say it's probably the most that I've faced in all my years in the NFL, which is several. They were all different, from Peyton Manning to all the way through the whole roster. Lately, we've faced a lot of these young guys that have got great legs and everybody faces the same problems when you play those guys. You have to be very disciplined in what you do and it adds a player to the scheme that you're trying to stop. Usually when a quarterback takes the ball and gives it to somebody, that's the guy you don't account for. The quarterback doesn't count if he's just going to give the ball to someone. When all of a sudden he's the option as someone that can keep the ball, now that whole eight man box goes from thinking ‘we're one up,' to now you're in trouble because you have one less than they have. That style of offense that young guys are using now has a lot of positives about it from their standpoint, and Kaepernick does an outstanding job running it. Like I said, he's familiar with it, it's not new to him."
On the challenges that style of offense presents:
"From a scheme standpoint, it makes them one up that they weren't before, but the most important part of it is who is running it. If Mike Nolan were running the offense then it would look just as bad as the worst offense. When you take a Russell Wilson like last week or a Kaepernick like this week or a Cam Newton or an RG3 go down the list, those young guys are all so athletic. When they run they create a whole problem not just that they're one up from a matchup standpoint but they can do something with it. If you make one guy miss in the hole, then where's your one up now? That's what exciting about the young quarterbacks in my opinion. The scheme is kind of exciting to watch, but more importantly the players are good doing it. If you throw that scheme in with just anybody then it's not going to look nearly as exciting."
On comparing Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick:
"Greg Roman does an outstanding job and is very much a game plan coach. Their offense is their offense but at the same time it's not going to look the same to us when it comes out. He'll try and do different things to give us problems naturally with formations and with personnel, which is what everyone does. I'd like to think that defensively we attempt to do the same thing, because they're watching film of what you do every week and game planning. As do offenses, defenses try to do the same thing in terms of switching it up. But I will say that throughout this process, as every team in the NFL has done with these new offenses, there's a little bit of a learning curve that's going on for some people because they're not all the same. You have the pistol, you have the read option, you have the trap, you have all these different kinds of options but it still entails the option, which involves the quarterback. They're all adding one to the equation but they're doing it in different ways."
On what the defense learned from the second half vs. Seattle:
"Well obviously when the quarterback gets out there running free that's not very good. I thought we did an outstanding job of stopping the run during the game, we really did. The quarterback got out of there for about 60 yards on scrambles but it's a chore, as I said already, the quarterbacks are good players. Kaepernick will pose the same problem that if he gets outside the pocket he can run with it. He's going to keep plays alive, he's going to deliver down the field, where as from the pocket those things don't typically happen. All of your scheme breaks down when the quarterback gets outside the pocket because all of those designs of one out, one in, and stacking guys, all of that stuff is gone when the quarterback scrambles. Now it's all about finding a guy and locking down. Every team that has been facing this faces the same thing. If you can somehow take that quarterback and put him in one spot and say ‘don't move,' like a pocket passer, then you're just defending a play. Once they keep plays alive with their legs, as even Aaron Rodgers does, and he's a pocket passer, but he does the same thing and so does Ben Roethlisberger. But when that play gets into five, six, seven, eight seconds long, then all that math that looked real nice on the board is gone. It's a challenge every week. It's not like something new happened the other day that you don't normally see throughout the course of a season when plays break down."
On the impact DE John Abraham's absence in the second half had on the defense vs. Seattle:
"Any time you take a good player off the field it's going to hurt. If they took the quarterback off the field it would've helped us. We've faced it as everybody has faced it all season long. Every team faces adversity, and you face injuries. The way you handle those adversities really say a lot about your team. Through the course of the year, we've had a lot of injuries. We lost our corner [Brent Grimes] the first game of the season. I think that our guys, the guys that stepped in, did an outstanding job because we continued to win 14 games. It's a real credit to the guys that came in, but you don't want to lose a good player as we did. We won the game so something went right, but it does change some things."
On the impact TE Vernon Davis could have after the performance by TE Zach Miller last week:
"Well, the game plan is going to change, with this being a different game. Vernon is a great player, I know him real well. We'll just have to wait and see on that. All I can tell you is that Vernon is a great player and there will be a different game plan."
On making the transition from head coach to coordinator:
"I think it's different for everyone. It wasn't hard for me but it is different for everyone. Being a head coach is like being the parent, and being a coordinator is like being big brother. That's really the transition you make. The head coach is the one that has to lay down the hammer, he's the one that has to call the shots on a lot of things and as a coordinator you have to be a soldier as well, you have to go back to being a soldier. It's not the same as being a position coach; it's kind of in the middle because you do still have to be the general, so to speak, over your coaches on the defensive side of the ball. I enjoy it. There is no better job than the coordinator's job. You can say what you want but for the head coach there are a lot of kinds of headaches and problems that don't even involve football that you have to do 24/7. As a coordinator you get to call the game and coach guys. If you want to be a football coach and call plays this is where to be. That's why you see so many of the offensive guys that never give that up. They don't want to give that up because that's a great thrill. Some defensive guys do it but not all of them. Just because something is a head coach job, doesn't make it a better job. It just makes it a head-coaching job. When you're trying to be that as a coach and it's the first time I think you do whatever you need to do to get a job and then try to make the best of it. After experience, I think it's more important that if it's a better job then it's worth entertaining, but just because it's a head-coaching job doesn't make it a better job. I loved having that job in San Francisco; I just wished it had worked out better. They're reaping the benefits now, which is great, I enjoy watching those guys."
Transcript courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons public-relations department.