SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Mike Nolan's 3½-year tenure as 49ers coach offered few highlights on the field.
An 18-37 record before a mid-season firing in 2008. No playoff berths. A parade of offensive coordinators unable to develop QB Alex Smith.
But Nolan did take over a franchise decimated under former general manager Terry Donahue and coach Dennis Erickson. He began acquiring the pieces that current coach Jim Harbaugh, who succeeded Mike Singletary, used to make back-to-back runs to the NFC Championship Game.
Nolan, now the defensive coordinator in Atlanta, gets the chance to see the results of some of his work when the Falcons host the 49ers on Sunday.
"There's a lot of players still playing there that we added, that I'll see. I look forward to seeing them before the game. I'm glad they've done well. Not only for those players, but for the organization," Nolan said. "I put a lot of time and effort into that. So, in a strange way, it's a little rewarding that some of those guys are going so well."
San Francisco owner Jed York said he gives Nolan "a lot of credit for helping set the foundation for this current 49ers team.
"It's never easy to let somebody go that you have so much respect for, and you wish things had worked out differently for Mike. … He is a very classy man and he's a heck of a football coach," York said.
Some key 49ers were acquired during Nolan's regime, including LB Patrick Willis and S Dashon Goldson, both first-team All-Pros, DT Justin Smith, RB Frank Gore and TEs Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker. In all, 13 players are left from Nolan's time in San Francisco.
ON THE OTHER SIDE: The 49ers secondary is coached by Ed Donatell, Atlanta's defensive coordinator in 2004-06.
Because of a relentless pass rush, that secondary usually doesn't stay in coverage long. OLB Aldon Smith was second in the league with 19.5 sacks during the regular season and outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks had 6.5.