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Dolphins land Nolan to run their defense: How it happened and what it might mean

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Unless you've been living under a rock, you know by now that the Dolphins have hired Mike Nolan to be their next defensive coordinator - less than 24 hours after the Broncos and Nolan "mutually agreed" to part ways after Nolan served just one season in the same position in Denver.

So what gives? How did it happen so fast?

When I first saw the news that Nolan was leaving Denver, via a text message, I immediately thought that he'd be a perfect fit for the Dolphins. By the time I got home and to a computer, I saw that other Dolphin fans had the same thought - with two separate fanposts dedicated to the idea. It's rare for almost all fans to be in agreement with a potential personnel change - whether it's a player or a coach. So it says a lot that nearly all Dolphin fans wanted this move to happen and are thrilled that it's already official.

But did anyone really think it would happen this fast? I guess we should have known something was up considering ESPN's Adam Schefter tweeted not too long after Nolan's departure was announced that the Dolphins were already showing interest. And by the time most were headed to sleep on Monday night, ESPN's John Clayton was reporting that the Dolphind and Nolan were already close to a deal.

That quick? Really?

My initial thought was that the Dolphins knew through their various connections to Josh McDaniels via the Bill Parcells "coaching tree" that this move could happen and had already discussed it internally and put together an offer - just in case. But now we are learning that the Dolphins actually contacted Denver in writing to request an interview with Nolan. The Broncos, though, didn't have to agree since it was only a "lateral move" and not a promotion. But NFL.com's Steve Wyche has some interesting details:

There is no acrimony between Nolan and Broncos coach Josh McDaniels. The Dolphins sent the Broncos a written request to interview Nolan. McDaniels approached Nolan with the request and, in a nutshell, asked him if he’d rather be in Miami or Denver. Nolan said he would like to interview with the Dolphins. McDaniels then granted Nolan permission and wished him well.

While this might explain why Denver let Nolan go and why the Dolphins were so quick to pounce on him, it raises another question. Why did Nolan want to come to Miami?

As Wyche points out, Nolan's deal in Denver was set to expire after next season. And with a potential work stoppage looming after the 2010 season if the players and owners can't work out a new collective bargaining agreement, Nolan could have wanted a longer contract that would protect him in the event of a work stoppage. But if the Dolphins had already spoken with Nolan or Nolan's representation while he was still under contract with Denver, wouldn't that be tampering? Technically, yes. But it doesn't seem like Denver cares much at all.

That's the "how" of the situation that unfolded. But what about the "why"?

I think it says a lot about how highly regarded Mike Nolan is - especially in the minds of this Miami regime. They were willing to submit a request to interview a coach already under contract in the same position with another team.

But why would they make this play for Nolan? That's easily explained by looking at his past results. While they aren't all good, his ability to turn around a defense quickly is quite remarkable. Just last year, Nolan took a defense that finished 29th in 2008 and transformed it into the league's 7th ranked defense - surrendering nearly 60 yards and 8 points fewer per game. And he did that while also converting a 4-3 defense into a 3-4. He also happen to have eight new starters on defense, including two former Dolphins (Andre Goodman and Renaldo Hill - as well as Vonnie Holliday, who started three games in Denver). Not bad.

This wasn't the first time he led a defensive turnaround in his first year. Back in 2000, Nolan took over a Jets defense that finished 21st in the league in total defense in 1999, allowing 336 yards per game. But in Nolan's lone season as Jets defensive coordinator, the Jets finished as the 10th ranked defense, trimming 35 yards from their yards allowed per game average.

That wasn't even the first time Nolan led a defensive turnaround. Back in 1993, the New York Giants hired Nolan to be their defensive coordinator. He had no previous experience as a coordinator and came from Denver where he spent six seasons as a special teams and then linebackers coach. Nolan became the youngest defensive coordinator in the league at the time - just 35 years of age. And all he did was instantly transform the Giants defense - a major reason why the Giants went 11-5 that season and made the playoffs for the first time since Bill Parcells left following the 1990 season. In '92, the Giants were 18th in the league in total defense and 26th in points allowed. But in year one under Nolan, the Giants finished the season ranked 5th in total defense (shaving 23 yards per game) and 1st in points allowed (shaving over 10 points per game off of their previous season's average).

These are just some of the reasons why the Dolphins targeted Nolan even before he was actually available. And both the team and their fans will be looking for similar results in 2010.

Final thoughts - for now

I, for one, am thrilled to have Mike Nolan aboard here in Miami. Things could not have worked out any better. But now the Dolphins must go upgrade the talent Nolan has to work with. As a whole, I believe Nolan has more talent to work with here in Miami than he had in Denver. But there are still obvious holes. Hopefully this front office fills those holes and gives Nolan more toys to play with.