Mike Nolan

Cowboys Fire Mike Nolan, Jim Tomsula

Mike Nolan will be a one-and-done as Cowboys defensive coordinator. The veteran assistant coach and former HC received his walking papers Friday, Jay Glazer of Fox Sports tweets. The Cowboys also fired defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets.

The Cowboys were not able to right the ship defensively this season. The embattled unit forced Dak Prescott into early-season shootouts and left the team overmatched at times after the Cowboys lost their starting quarterback. Nolan’s defense ranked 28th in scoring — down from 11th in 2019 under Rod Marinelli — and even though DVOA was a bit kinder to his unit’s performance (23rd), the Cowboys will designate him as their major scapegoat for a 6-10 season.

This marked Nolan’s eighth DC opportunity. The former 49ers HC has been a defensive coordinator since the 1993 season, though when Mike McCarthy summoned Nolan to be his defensive leader in Dallas, Nolan had not served in that capacity since overseeing the 2014 Falcons defense. The Cowboys gave up at least 34 points from Weeks 2-6, allowed 41 to Washington — DVOA’s No. 32 offense — during Dallas’ Thanksgiving game.

The 218 points the Cowboys allowed through six games tied for the third-worst mark in NFL history, and the 473 points Nolan’s troops ceded during the 2020 season doubled as the most in the franchise’s 61-year history. Allowing more than 290 yards in losses to the Browns and Ravens, the Cowboys ranked 31st against the run.

The Cowboys brought in Tomsula — best known for his time in San Francisco, which included a one-year run (2015) as 49ers HC — after he spent three seasons with Washington. While the veteran assistant coaxed strong work from Washington’s D-line last season and oversaw Aldon Smith‘s comeback season, the Cowboys will replace him soon.

Jerry Jones provided repeated assurances McCarthy would be back. And OC Kellen Moore turned down a path back to Boise State to stay in Dallas. While Prescott’s contract will (again) be the top Cowboys offseason priority, upgrading at defensive coordinator will be critical to restoring a Cowboys team that has ventured off track over the past two seasons.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Cowboys Expected To Retain HC Mike McCarthy

Mike McCarthy‘s first year as the Cowboys’ head coach has not gone well, to say the least. At 3-9, Dallas is at the bottom of the awful NFC East, so it’s fair to wonder if McCarthy’s job is in jeopardy.

About a month ago, team EVP Stephen Jones adamantly shot down the notion that he could look to move on from McCarthy at season’s end, but his club has been blown out by the Washington Football Team and the Ravens over the past two weeks, performances that have engendered plenty of conversation about the Cowboys’ effort and heart.

Nonetheless, Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network hears that McCarthy will indeed be retained for the 2021 season (video link). After all, it would be difficult for any head coach to overcome the loss of his starting quarterback and the complete decimation of his offensive line, and while the uninspired play is cause for concern, it’s generally advisable to give a HC at least two years to get things moving in the right direction.

But even if McCarthy’s job is safe, there could be major changes on the way. One team source told Rapoport that “something has to change,” and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan could be on the outs. Nolan spent his last few seasons in the league as a linebackers coach and had not been in charge of a defense since 2014, when he wrapped up a three-year stint as the Falcons’ DC. His return to the coordinator ranks has been a disaster, as the Cowboys are near the bottom of the league in total defense and dead last in points allowed per game.

Nolan, 61, has a ton of experience, having served as a defensive coordinator with eight different franchises and as the 49ers’ head coach from 2005-08. But two of his terms as DC lasted just one year — the Jets in 2000 and the Broncos in 2009 — and it looks like the Cowboys will be the third team on that list.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Cowboys Not Considering Defensive Coordinator Change

Mike Nolan‘s return to the defensive coordinator ranks has not gone well. Dallas’ defense has allowed the NFL’s most points and third-most yards — a steep statistical drop from where it was under Rod Marinelli.

Ahead of Week 5, the Cowboys are not considering a quick hook for Nolan. Mike McCarthy expressed confidence in the veteran defensive coordinator, while Cowboys executive VP Stephen Jones said during a radio interview on Dallas’ 105.3 The Fan “now’s not the time to think about” a change here (Twitter links via The Athletic’s Jon Machota).

After allowing Russell Wilson to throw five touchdown passes in an outing that would have featured six TD tosses had D.K. Metcalf not fumbled at the 1-yard line, the Cowboys permitted a franchise-most 307 rushing yards to a Browns team that lost Nick Chubb early in Week 4. While DVOA slots Dallas’ defense 24th — down from 17th at the end of last season — the unit has been the obvious culprit for the team’s 1-3 start. The Cowboys are down some key defenders, however, with Leighton Vander Esch, Sean Lee, Chidobe Awuzie and Anthony Brown on IR.

Upon hiring McCarthy, the Cowboys brought in Nolan and allowed Marinelli to leave for Jon Gruden‘s staff in Las Vegas. This marks Nolan’s first DC gig since 2014, when he closed a three-year stay leading the Falcons’ defense. The 61-year-old assistant has now been either a head coach (with the 49ers) or defensive coordinator with nine franchises, beginning that run in 1993. Nolan, 61, spent the past three seasons coaching the Saints’ linebackers.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC Coaching Turner, Peetz, Linguist, Harris,Whitted

Norv Turner will not be returning to the Panthers coaching staff, according to Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic. Turner had served as a special assistant to former Panthers head coach Ron Rivera. Rivera, of course, was recently replaced by Matt Rhule and has since taken over in Washington. While nothing has been reported, it would not be a surprise to see Turner follow Rivera to the nation’s capital to work with young quarterback Dwayne Haskins.

At the same time, Carolina blocked running backs coach Jake Peetz from interviewing for other positions, per Albert Breer of SI.com. Breer adds that Rivera wanted to take Peetz with him, but Carolina general manager Marty Hurney valued Peetz and the team decided to reward him with a promotion to quarterbacks coach.

Here’s some more notes from coaching staff’s around the NFC:

  • The Cowboys hired Texas A&M cornerbacks coach Maurice Linguist to serve as the team’s defensive backs coach alongside Al Harris. Linguist did not have a history with either head coach Mike McCarthy or defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, but his personality impressed the pair so much that they offered him the job on the same day of his interview, according to Dallas Cowboys reporter Lindsay Cash Draper. Harris had been an assistant with Kansas City, but more notably, played under McCarthy during his tenure in Green Bay at cornerback.
  • Harris’ former team will be making a change at wide receivers coach. According Rob Demovsky of ESPN, the Packers have let Alvis Whitted go and have begun the process of searching for his replacement. Whitted was hired just a year ago to join Matt LaFleur’s staff, but it appears LaFleur will be going in a different direction.

Kellen Moore To Stay With Cowboys

Kellen Moore will remain the Cowboys’ OC in 2020 as a member of new head coach Mike McCarthy‘s staff, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. In addition, the team will add former Rams special teams coordinator John Fassel to serve in the same capacity in Dallas, and it is also hiring Mike Nolan as defensive coordinator and Jim Tomsula as defensive line coach.

Moore, 30, had drawn interest from Washington for the Pac-12 program’s OC job, but Mike Garafolo tweeted yesterday that the expectation was for the wunderkind coach to stay with the Cowboys.

Despite Dallas’ disappointing season, the team is intent on keeping Moore. Jerry Jones made it a point during the Cowboys’ HC interviews to express his desire for Jason Garrett‘s eventual successor to retain Moore. And McCarthy is a fan of the one-year coordinator. One year remains on Moore’s contract.

Although Moore went to Boise State, he is from a town southeast Washington. So, the Huskies OC job would generate natural appeal. And McCarthy being an offensive-minded coach would stand to lessen Moore’s impact with the 2020 Cowboys. But Jones being in the young coach’s corner will likely make a difference in shaping McCarthy’s offensive staff.

Under Moore, the Cowboys jumped from 22nd in total offense to first from 2018-19. Dak Prescott surpassed his previous career-high yardage total by more than 1,000, and his 30 touchdown passes were seven more than his previous career high. The fourth-year quarterback fell one yard shy of Tony Romo‘s single-season Cowboys record. The franchise appears to be on the verge of a McCarthy-Moore partnership, which would be an interesting meld of offensive philosophies given that the new head coach is steeped in the West Coast offense and Moore ran a version of Air Coryell.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Coaching Notes: Rhule, Giants, Cowboys

Even after Joe Judge‘s standout interview Monday led to him becoming the Giants‘ head coach, the franchise still had Matt Rhule as their preferred candidate. The Panthers‘ seven-year, $62MM offer to the Baylor head coach essentially prompted the Giants to fold their hand on this front, with Ralph Vacchiano of SNY noting Big Blue balked at the contract length and salary. Rhule’s $8.9MM salary makes him the sixth-highest-paid coach in the league — behind Bill Belichick ($12MM per year), Pete Carroll ($11MM AAV), Jon Gruden ($10MM), Sean Payton ($9.8MM) and John Harbaugh ($9MM). The Panthers also paid Baylor a $6MM buyout, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. Just months ago, Rhule agreed to an extension with the Big 12 program.

Here is the latest from the coaching front:

  • In addition to missing out on the Ron Rivera boat, the Giants wanted to speak with Mike McCarthy again, Vacchiano adds. The Cowboys swooping in prevented such an opportunity.
  • Big Blue received a ringing Judge endorsement from Belichick, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com notes (video link). The former Giants defensive coordinator and six-time Super Bowl-winning head coach called the Giants to sell them on Judge’s credentials, despite his non-traditional candidacy as a special teams coordinator.
  • Shifting to McCarthy’s Cowboys staff, the team is expected to hire Rams special teams coordinator John Fassel to the same position, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets. Fassel’s contract was up. The second-generation NFL coach will relocate to Dallas after spending eight seasons with the Rams. Fassel came over from the Raiders in 2012, when Jeff Fisher took over in St. Louis, and stayed on with Sean McVay‘s team for three seasons. Fassel served as Rams interim HC in 2016, after the franchise fired Fisher. The Rams are losing their DC and ST coordinators, with Wade Phillips also out of the picture.
  • Other candidates have surfaced to relocate to Texas. Cowboys assistants expect Saints linebackers coach Mike Nolan to be named Dallas’ new defensive coordinator, Albert Breer of SI.com notes. Nolan was the 49ers’ head coach in 2005, when McCarthy served as San Francisco’s OC. Additionally, Redskins defensive line coach Jim Tomsula is on McCarthy’s radar, per Pelissero (on Twitter). Tomsula was the 49ers’ HC in 2015 and has been the Redskins’ D-line coach since 2017.
  • The Bengals and special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons have agreed to an extension, Tyler Dragon of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports (on Twitter). A longtime Dolphins ST boss, Simmons interviewed for the Bengals’ HC job last year and joined Cincinnati’s staff as a key assistant after the top job went to Zac Taylor. Despite Cincinnati’s 2-14 record, the team ranked first in special teams DVOA under its first-year leader.

Coaching Rumors: Panthers, Rhule, McDaniels

The latest from around the NFL:

  • Saints assistant Mike Nolan is a name to watch as new Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy searches for his next defensive coordinator, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com (Twitter link) hears.
  • The Panthers‘ interview with Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski will take place in Minneapolis on Thursday, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter) reports. The Browns could also schedule a chat with Stefanski for that same day. During Stefanski’s first full season at the helm, the Vikings ranked as a top-10 offense in points. With Stefanski on the sidelines, the Vikings also managed a 26-20 win over the Saints on Sunday to advance to the divisional round.
  • The Giants‘ interview with Baylor head coach Matt Rhule has been scheduled for Tuesday, Schefter hears. After that, they’ll meet with Patriots OC Josh McDaniels on Wednesday. Both interviews will take place in New Jersey.
  • At least 4 NFL teams have expressed interest in former Giants head coach Pat Shurmur as an offensive coordinator, Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com (on Twitter) hears. Shurmur has also heard from “a college team or two.” Shurmur was fired by the Giants after amassing a 9-23 record over the course of two disappointing seasons.

Bengals Considering Mike Nolan For DC?

The Bengals and new head coach Zac Taylor have “kicked the tires” on hiring Saints linebackers coach Mike Nolan as defensive coordinator, according to Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com.

Cincinnati previously expressed interest in hiring Nolan’s boss, Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, but New Orleans quickly locked up the latter to a new three-year contract. As indicated in PFR’s Coordinator Tracker, the Bengals also spoke with former Raiders coach Jack Del Rio (but decided the fit was not correct) and have been linked to ex-NFL head coach John Fox.

All three of those coaches offer prior head coaching experience, and Nolan would as well. In addition to working as a defensive coordinator for seven NFL clubs, Nolan also served as the 49ers’ head coach from 2005-08. Taylor, a first-time head coach at the age of 35, may feel the need to bring in a seasoned coach on the defensive side of the ball, perhaps emulating the setup employed by his former Rams club. When Los Angeles head coach Sean McVay was first hired at age-31, one of his first moves was to add veteran DC Wade Phillips to his staff.

Nolan, for his part, has historically preferred to run 3-4 schemes (although he’s worked in a 4-3 defense for the past two years in New Orleans). The Bengals used a 4-3 look for the duration of Marvin Lewis‘ time with the club, and there’s been no indication Cincinnati will move in a 3-4 direction. Given the prevalence of nickel and dime packages, the different fronts mean less than they once did.

The Bengals’ defense was a train wreck in 2018: the unit allowed 6,618 yards, the most yardage given up by a defense since the 2015 Giants. Lewis fired defensive coordinator Teryl Austin at midseason and took on defensive play-calling duties, but Cincinnati’s defense arguably declined following Austin’s dismissal. The Bengals finished 27th in defensive DVOA, Football Outsiders‘ efficiency metric, but ranked 31st in weighted DVOA, which puts greater emphasis on more recent games.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

GM/Staff Notes: 49ers, Colts, Saints, Broncos

The 49ers’ shocking general manager choice, John Lynch, will face a “steep” learning curve as a front office neophyte, ex-Lions GM Matt Millen told Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle. As was the case with Millen, whom Detroit hired in 2001, Lynch is coming from the broadcasting booth to take the helm of a franchise. It didn’t go well for Millen, under whom Detroit went 31-84 before it fired him in 2008. “You need to be schooled,” said Millen. “You need to be mentored. You need to have somebody you can go to. That’s not easy.” Lynch could have a less difficult time breaking into his new job than Millen, notes Branch, who points out that soon-to-be 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan is likely to have 53-man roster control. Assistant GM Tom Gamble will also be around to help Lynch make the transition.

More on the NFL’s front offices and coaching staffs:

  • Newly minted Colts GM Chris Ballard received a five-year contract, according to Mike Chappell of FOX59. Colts vice president of football operations Jimmy Raye III was among the candidates Ballard beat out for the role, and owner Jim Irsay revealed Raye nearly got the job, per Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star. Irsay assured Raye, who will remain in the Colts’ Ballard-led front office, that someone else will give him a shot as a GM if the Colts orchestrate a turnaround (all Twitter links here).
  • While Ballard reportedly isn’t committed to going forward with Chuck Pagano beyond the 2017 season, he spoke glowingly of the five-year head coaching veteran Monday. “There were no other options. Chuck Pagano is a great coach,” said Ballard (Twitter link via Holder). Upon Ballard’s hiring, Pagano stated Sunday that he’s “extremely excited” to work with the rookie GM (via the Colts’ Twitter account).
  • The Saints have hired Mike Nolan to coach their linebackers, his previous employer, SiriusXM NFL Radio, announced (on Twitter). Nolan coached the Chargers’ linebackers in 2015 and has been a defensive coordinator with seven teams, though he’s best known for an 18-37 run as San Francisco’s head coach from 2005-08.
  • Broncos head coach Vance Joseph has added “assistant head coach” to running backs coach Eric Studesville‘s title, tweets Mike Klis of 9News. Studesville drew interest from the Jets earlier this month in their search for an offensive coordinator, but he elected to stay in Denver, where he has coached RBs since 2010.

Coaching Notes: Jets, Saints, Jaguars, Bears

Jets head coach Todd Bowles wasn’t blindsided by former offensive coordinator Chan Gailey‘s retirement. The second-year coach told Darryl Slater of NJ.com that Gailey had told him last offseason that 2016 would be his final season in the NFL. Bowles acknowledged that this made it easier to plan for the upcoming offseason, and he refuted suggestions that Gailey’s impending retirement had a negative impact on the Jets’ offense.

“No, I respect Chan to the utmost,” Bowles said. “He doesn’t do anything without thinking about it — and for a reason. And I respect his privacy. I won’t even go into that. But I love him to death. I still do. I’m happy for him. He wanted to go out his way, and he did.” 

So who will replace Gailey as the team’s new offensive coordinator? Bowles is apparently leaning towards one candidate, but he wouldn’t reveal who that is.

“I’m pretty sure where I’m going,” Bowles told Connor Hughes of NJ.com. “I can’t say anything. When we hire somebody, I will let you know.”

Let’s check out some more coaching notes from around the NFL…

  • The Saints were busy today. Alex Marvez of The Sporting News reports (via Twitter) that the team interviewed former Alabama defensive line coach Bo Davis for the same position, and he notes that the team will interview both Brian VanGorder and Mike Nolan for defensive staff positions. Meanwhile, ESPN’s Adam Caplan tweets that the organization also interviewed 49ers outside linebackers coach Jason Tarver to be their next linebackers coach.
  • Speaking of Nolan, Marvez tweets that the longtime coach has taken himself out of the running to become the Jaguars linebackers coach. However, the former 49ers head coach is still “considering other opportunities.” The 57-year-old last worked in the NFL as the Chargers’ linebackers coach in 2015.
  • While Nolan and others are potentially looking to join the Saints coaching staff, Josh Katzenstein of NOLA.com caught up with Bill Johnson, who was recently let go as the team’s defensive line coach. Johnson had spent eight seasons in New Orleans, including the team’s Super Bowl-winning campaign. However, he understood that all good things must come to an end. “I was there a long time,” he said. “Everybody’s got a shelf life, and you move on. But, it was good.”
  • Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune tweets that the Bears still haven’t hired a replacement for outside linebackers coach Clint Hurtt, who left the organization to join the Seahawks. Biggs notes that defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and defensive quality control assistant Sean Desai have been working with the outside linebackers during practice for the Senior Bowl.