The Atlanta Falcons announced on Friday evening they have hired Ryan Nielsen to replace Dean Pees as their defensive coordinator.
Nielsen was most recently the co-defensive coordinator with the New Orleans Saints.
Nielsen has been with the Saints since 2017 when he was hired as the defensive line coach. He remained in that position as he rose through the ranks to add titles including assistant head coach and co-defensive coordinator.
The Saints finished with the No. 9 scoring defense last season and No. 5 in yards allowed. The Falcons finished 29th and 26th in the same categories.
Since Nielsen was hired in 2017, the Saints haven’t finished below 14th in points allowed and have two top-five finishes including 2021 and 2020.
Nielsen had always been a candidate for the job in Atlanta, but the Falcons also interviewed higher profile candidates like former head coaches Brian Flores and Vic Fangio of the Miami Dolphins and Denver Broncos respectively.
The Carolina Panthers hired Frank Reich as their head coach on Thursday, and in doing so, cut ties with interim coach Steve Wilks. Wilks quickly became a fan and media favorite to wind up in Atlanta.
The Falcons may have grown weary of the three still up for head coaching jobs and wanted to make sure they got one of their top candidates. Or they may have prioritized Nielsen all along.
On the surface, Nielsen’s hire feels like a bit of a letdown after being linked with big names like Flores and Fangio, but a deeper look into the Saints defense shows the Saints have played a very different style of football the last several years.
The Falcons are expected to invest heavily in the defense this offseason with $70+ million in available cap space and another top-10 NFL Draft pick in their arsenal.
Step one of rebuilding the Falcons defense was hiring the defensive coordinator.
Insert Ryan Nielsen.
The Falcons quickly announced they had shaken up the defensive staff after the Nielsen hire.
“The Falcons also announced they have parted ways with DL coach Gary Emanuel, OLB coach Ted Monachino and DBs coach Jon Hoke,” reported Josh Kendall on Twitter.