Funny thing about the way the NFL works. A guy can go from being a complete coaching disaster one October to being the toast of the league 12 months later.
The guy in question is
But this season, Nolan is being lauded as the most valuable assistant in the league. As defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos, Nolan has had a huge role in the league's biggest surprise as the Broncos have jumped out to a 5-0 start.
Nolan is a tale of redemption. But it's also an example of NFL's Peter Principle, one that should be heeded by owners and general managers. With the 49ers, Nolan was in the wrong job, elevated a couple of levels higher than the spot where he had proven he was most effective. In Denver, Nolan is back in his comfort zone.
Nolan has a long, successful record as a defensive coordinator. When the 49ers were looking for a new coach after the 2004 season, owner
It turned out to be a very bad idea. Nolan continued to be an effective mind on defense; he drafted budding superstar linebacker
When he was fired and replaced by
In Denver, defensive woes were the undoing of
What may seem like a demotion on paper is actually a correction. As a defensive coordinator, Nolan is thriving in Denver. He's running a 3-4, the scheme McDaniels was familiar with in New England and one that Nolan tried to implement in San Francisco but never with much consistency or success.
The Denver defense was rebuilt, with eight new starters. The Broncos added safety
Denver, with wins over Dallas and New England in the past two weeks, is off to its best start in 11 years. And Nolan is a major reason why.
The league is littered with effective assistant coaches who aren't cut out to be head coaches. In Oakland,
A year after he hit bottom, Nolan is now a hot topic in the league. Which means, in a few months, some owner might think about hiring him as a head coach. The lesson of Nolan's tale: not every good coach makes a good head coach.