The Nolans: Father on son, Part I

In an interview with SFI from his home in suburban Dallas, Dick Nolan - 49ers head coach from 1968-75 - discusses issues regarding his son Mike taking over the same job he once held in San Francisco. Today, in Part I, Dick Nolan talks about his influence on Mike's career path, Mike's destiny to be a NFL head coach and the similarities and differences in coaching styles of father and son.

Q: Dick, during your decades as a NFL coach, you were always considered one of the greatest defensive minds and strategists of your era. Did you pass that chromosome along to Mike?

Dick Nolan: Oh, yeah, definitely. He's a good defensive mind. He has a very sharp mind for both sides of the ball. But like me, he takes after defense. He leaned toward defense as a player, too. He played safety and he enjoyed it. He always liked his football.

Q: Mike has said you always let him follow his own path, but how much influence do you think you actually had on him reaching this point in his professional career?

Dick Nolan: All I really did was help him recognize things, the good things and bad things of knowing what to do. Just like I was, Mike was there all day long, and he was around to see whatever came up during training camp and in practice. I'd say to him, ‘Do you see what happened here and there?' He was very attentive to it all. He was like a sponge. He soaked it all up. He would always sit in the back of the classroom with the players during meetings. He would be there and follow up on what was going on. That was how he was; that was his way. He was never asleep on the job. And, he really, really enjoyed it.

Q: Did you ever feel like it was Mike's destiny to someday be a NFL head coach?

Dick Nolan: You know, we always talked about when Mike was a young guy, even when he was a kid. I can remember my wife, Ann, saying, ‘Don't do it!' But she always knew he had an inkling for that sort of thing. I suppose I did, too. I guess we started talking about it more when he was in college – when he was a junior and senior at Oregon.

Q: When was the very first time the thought entered your mind that Mike might be headed down the path of becoming a head coach?

Dick Nolan: I can't really single out a specific time. But just remembering how attentive he was… He was able to piece everything together, all the different aspects of the game. How to play, what (schemes) to play and so forth. He had a feel for the game. He found out the answers – whether they came from me or somebody else.

Q: What do you think first captured him about the coaching aspect of the game?

Dick Nolan: It's what he wanted. You could see it in him. At some point, I just knew. He just really loved the game and liked (coaching) and all that. And he just stayed with it. I think if you told him, ‘If this happens, then this happens,' and so forth, it just really sunk in. He was a guy that, when (the 49ers) went to the line, he just really wanted them to play good football. He examined what was going on all the time, and wanted to help players and get the most out of them. Of course, the players already knew what Mike knew, so they just kind of went along with it. But he was that way in everything. He analyzed the game.

Q: How is he the same as your as a coach, and how is he different than you?

Dick Nolan: Mike is a very detailed guy, and he is sharp with what to do. That's the same way I was. But Mike has some things that are just his own way. And that's it. I've been there for a long time and done things a certain way, and Mike has seen that, but he's his own man.

Q: Does he still call you often for advice?

Dick Nolan: (Laughs). He's got enough now to handle it.

TOMORROW: Dick Nolan discusses the eight impressionable years his son was around the 49ers while he was head coach, the impact being around the team during those years had on Mike, the lone setback of Mike's career in Washington, his expectations for Mike in San Francisco, and if he thinks his son has what it takes to get the 49ers back to their high standards of yesteryear.

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