AUSTIN, Texas —
San Francisco improved to 4-12 and 7-9 in Nolan's first two seasons, but slipped back to 5-11 in 2007. When they started the next season 2-5, he was let go.
But Nolan's influence is still felt on a team that is one win from the Super Bowl for the second year in a row. Where would the defense be without linebacker Patrick Willis, safety Dashon Goldson and tackle Justin Smith, all picked up during the Nolan era? Likewise, imagine the offense without three more of his players: running back Frank Gore, tight end Vernon Davis and left tackle Joe Staley.
"He helped me out," Goldson said of his former coach. "He helped form me into a good football player."
Nolan stays in contact with some of the players he coached in San Francisco, and he takes pride in the success of the team since Jim Harbaugh took over in 2011.
"I just wish it had worked out a little better for me at the end," Nolan said. "There was a lot of work to be done, but they're reaping the benefits of it now, which is great. I enjoy watching those guys."
Nolan will be on the hot seat Sunday, facing a quarterback coming off one of the greatest performances in playoff history.
Colin Kaepernick, who took over the job from Smith late in the season in a much-debated move, erased all doubts that he's the right man for the job in a 45-31 demolition of the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round. He passed for 263 yards and two touchdowns. More dazzling, he set a quarterback playoff record by rushing for 181 yards and a pair of scores.
The Falcons' defense has struggled against similarly skilled quarterbacks, which will likely mean a lot of late nights for Nolan this week as he tries to come up with a scheme that will at least slow Kaepernick.