SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Mike Nolan's 3½-year tenure as coach for the San Francisco 49ers offered few highlights on the field.
An 18-37 record before a mid-season firing in 2008. No playoff berths and a parade of offensive coordinators unable to develop Alex Smith at quarterback.
Yet to call Nolan's run in San Francisco a complete failure would clearly miss the point. He took over a franchise decimated under the leadership of former general manager Terry Donahue and coach Dennis Erickson and began acquiring the pieces that Jim Harbaugh later used to make back-to-back runs to the NFC Championship Game.
Nolan, now defensive coordinator in Atlanta, gets the chance to see the results of some of his work when the Falcons (14-3) host the 49ers (12-4-1) on Sunday with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.
“He turned us around,” said punter Andy Lee, one of 13 players left from when Nolan coached. “When he first got here, we were the worst team in the NFL. Then we slowly started this climb from being the worst team in the NFL to a mediocre, possible playoff team. He did a good job. I really don't have anything negative to say about him.”
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