Nolan leaves Ravens for 49ers

THE BALTIMORE SUN

An offseason of transition continued for the Ravens yesterday, when defensive coordinator Mike Nolan accepted an offer to become head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.

Barring any last-minute snag in contract talks, Nolan would become the fourth member of the Ravens' coaching and personnel staff to leave the organization over the past two weeks.

When Nolan finalizes his deal with the 49ers - which could come as early as today - the Ravens are expected to promote defensive line coach Rex Ryan to coordinator. Ryan is the last coach remaining from the staff that guided the record-setting 2000 defense.

Meanwhile, the Ravens are scheduled to announce two high-profile additions today, officially naming Jim Fassel as their offensive coordinator and former University of Washington coach Rick Neuheisel as their quarterbacks coach.

Ravens officials declined comment on their offensive coordinator position yesterday but acknowledged Fassel was participating in the team's personnel meetings. Coach Brian Billick did not return phone calls yesterday.

Nolan, 45, played a chief role in restoring the Ravens' defense back to the upper echelon of the NFL.

Taking over for Marvin Lewis after the 2001 season, Nolan dealt with the loss of eight starters and the switch to a 3-4 defense. With Nolan tailoring schemes around the talents of his players, the Ravens defense remained the strength of the team, ranking third in the NFL in 2003 and sixth this season.

The 49ers reportedly selected Nolan because of his experience (18 seasons as an assistant) and his vision for the organization. He beat out four other finalists: Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger; Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz; New England Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel; and New York Giants defensive coordinator Tim Lewis.

Nolan would follow in the footsteps of his father, Dick, who went 54-53-5 in eight seasons as the 49ers coach (1968-75) and directed the franchise to its first-ever playoff wins.

"[Mike Nolan] has been around football all his life, and they [Nolan and his father] are very much alike in a lot of ways," said former coach Dan Reeves, who hired the younger Nolan for his first NFL job with the Denver Broncos in 1987. "He has coached special teams. He has coached offense, defense, and now I think all those things are going to pay dividends."

"It's a good fit," added Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, who played his first four NFL seasons under Nolan and Reeves. "I loved him back then, and I love him still. I'm glad he's finally getting that opportunity. It's probably a little later than I thought."

San Francisco floundered to a 2-14 record this season, earning the first pick in the NFL draft.

"[Niners owner John York] had a good, strong list of candidates and felt that Mike was the perfect candidate to lead us into the future," 49ers spokesman Kirk Reynolds said.

Nolan would become the third Ravens assistant to be hired as an NFL head coach in a two-year span. Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis and Jacksonville's Jack Del Rio both have enjoyed early success and have groomed up-and-coming teams in the league.

Ryan, 42, who served on defensive staffs with all of them, likely will have his first crack at coordinating a defense at the NFL level. The son of former NFL head coach Buddy Ryan, he has spent the past six seasons overseeing the defensive line, which consistently overachieved despite the lack of big-name players.

He could have become the defensive coordinator of the Oakland Raiders last season but the Ravens denied him permission to talk to them.

Ryan could not be reached for comment yesterday.

"Everyone knew his time was coming," cornerback Gary Baxter said. "A lot of guys want to be part of a defense with him. It would be a great move. He would be a great defensive coordinator."

It's been a busy offseason for the Ravens since finishing a lackluster 9-7 season on Jan. 2.

They lost director of player personnel Phil Savage, who became general manager of the Cleveland Browns, and also parted ways with offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh and offensive line coach Jim Colletto.

The Ravens have filled the void of Savage by increasing the responsibilities of George Kokinis, the director of pro personnel, and Eric DeCosta, director of college scouting.

The only hire announced by the Ravens this offseason has been former Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator Chris Foerster, who was named assistant head coach and offensive line coach last week.

Before joining Billick's staff, Nolan was the defensive coordinator with the New York Jets (2000), Washington (1997-1999) and the Giants (1993-1996).

"When I was with the Redskins, out at practice he was always running around everywhere with tons of energy," said 49ers linebacker Derek Smith, who played for Nolan in his first three NFL seasons. "Then after we got done with practice, you would come in and see the guy working out like crazy on some piece of cardiovascular equipment.

"He is such an intense guy. The thing about him, though, at his core, he is a good person. He is such a solid individual."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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