Nolan: 'You don't want to live paranoid'

The death of Sean Taylor hit close to home for Mike Nolan, who experienced tragedy with his own team in 2005 when Thomas Herrion collapsed and later died after a 49ers exhibition game. But considering Taylor died in his Miami home, apparently shot by an intruder, it raises the question whether NFL players, because of their celebrity and wealth, need to worry about being safe in their own houses.

And that goes for coaches, too.

"You don't want to live paranoid, obviously," Nolan said Wednesday after sending his condolences to Taylor's family and the Washington Redskins organization, where Nolan served as defensive coordinator from 1997-1999.

But in this day and age of the 21st century, where sports figures can become targets when they attempt to filter in naturally with the world around them, they must be wary and proceed with caution, even when they take just their every-man place in society.

But now they can't even rely on the sanctity of their own homes? Nobody appears to know for sure yet the exact circumstances surrounding Taylor's death, but it's getting to the point there is no place for pro athletes to hide even in their own neighborhoods.

Taylor, who was raised in the Miami area and went to college at the University of Miami, was gunned down at his home in Miami's Palmetto Bay region. Niners Pro Bowl running back Frank Gore, Taylor's college teammate who also grew up in inner-city Miami, knows those mean streets well. After joining the 49ers, Gore fulfilled a dream by purchasing a home for his mother in South Florida, where he now lives in the offseason.

Gore's mother Lizzie died of kidney disease at age 46 on September 12, and now he is dealing with the loss of a friend whom Gore had known since they both played in the Pop Warner leagues of Miami's toughest neighborhoods.

It makes Gore, like many athletes today, wonder if he has to worry about his own safety and that of his family since he's in such a high-profile position.

"It's tough," Gore said. "I know it can happen to anyone. Miami, it's a tough city. A lot of people have jealousy for guys who have better stuff than them. I thought about it when I go back to see my family and my kids, I've got to be careful. Me, I just don't let anybody come over to my house. I make sure my doors are locked. Just don't let any strangers come into your house."

Nolan said NFL figures of today must be aware of what's going on around them and be cautious in their ordinary lives outside the game.

"Some of the guys come from a little bit more difficult background," Nolan said. "But a lot of them, even in (Taylor's) case, I believe he went back to a very safe (place). More than anything else, the players have to be careful of who they associate with, because some of the guys that were their buddies growing up may have chosen another path than some of the guys who've come into the NFL have chosen.

"And because of that, you have to be careful when you still have ties with those guys, because sometimes they can lead you to trouble. I don't know if that was the case for Sean. I just know that the reminder that I tried to say today to our team, hoping it wouldn't go in vain, was guys aren't careful about who they associate with and where they go and what times. For a lot of them, they don't have the fear of going back to where they came from, as some of us might have who were never familiar with it to begin with."

Does Nolan worry about his own safety and security? In several ways, he's in the same boat as his players. Maybe even more so.

But like a lot of people who walk the earth in high-profile positions, Nolan refuses to live in fear.

But he has been around enough to know and realize the implications of the world in which he and his peers live.

"I don't worry about it," Nolan said. "I know that, obviously, we have security all the time with us when we travel, when we're at home, all that."

Nolan meant home, as in home games. The security he's familiar with usually extends to team-related matters.

Nolan then related a story about his final season with the Redskins, when he began to take some heat for the play of his defensive unit, and his boss – owner Dan Snyder – pretty much hung him out to dry in the court of public opinion.

"I remember it was about midseason, it was a bad year for me," Nolan said. "Things weren't going well, I was taking some hits."

There was a security guard who always escorted Nolan to his car after games. After one particular game deep into the season, Nolan told the guard that he might take a little longer, and that the guard was free to leave.

"And he says, ‘That's OK, I'll wait for you,'" Nolan said. "And I said, ‘No, really, you can go.' He says, ‘Mike, I don't think you understand, I have to walk you to your car … If I don't, I don't know what could happen, plus I don't want to lose my job.'"

That's when it first dawned on Nolan that the security guard was there for a reason.

"I thought the guy was just being a nice guy, walking me out to my car and everything," Nolan said. "But he said, ‘Things are not real good for you right now, let's go to the car.' So it caught my attention. I remember thinking, ‘Geez, I didn't know it was that bad.'"

And now, eight years later, it's only getting worse. Sometimes, it's even a matter of life and death.

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