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Former 49ers, Saints coach Dick Nolan dies at 75

SAN FRANCISCO -- Dick Nolan, the former coach of the San Francisco 49ers and the father of current 49ers coach Mike Nolan, died Sunday, the 49ers said. He was 75.

Dick Nolan, a former NFL defensive back who also coached the New Orleans Saints, had been in declining health with Alzheimer's disease and prostate cancer for several years. He spent the last few months at an assisted-care facility in the Dallas area, near his longtime home with his wife, Ann.

Mike Nolan missed practice with the 49ers on Friday and Saturday, traveling back to Texas to be with his father. Team spokesman Aaron Salkin said Nolan would coach the 49ers on Monday night against the Seattle Seahawks.

Dick Nolan played nine NFL seasons before becoming a coach, assisting Hall of Famer Tom Landry in Dallas and going 71-85-3 in nearly 11 seasons as head coach with San Francisco and New Orleans. He led the perennially downtrodden 49ers to 56 wins, three division titles and two conference championship games in eight years with the club.

Dick and Mike Nolan were just the fifth father and son to become NFL head coaches and the first to coach the same team since Bum and Wade Phillips both coached the Saints.

Mike Nolan convinced the NFL to allow him to wear dress suits on the 49ers' sideline last season, partly in tribute to his father, who always dressed smartly.

"My father always projected an image of authority, and I wanted to honor him -- the way he lived his life and his whole career as a coach," Mike Nolan said.

Born in Pittsburgh and raised in White Plains, N.Y., Dick Nolan played college football at Maryland and went on to a playing NFL career with the New York Giants, Chicago Cardinals and Dallas Cowboys, mostly as a hard-hitting safety.

"He made himself into not just a good player, he was an extraordinary player," former teammate Frank Gifford told the New York Daily News earlier this year. "He didn't have the physical talent to do it all. He just willed himself. He was smart. He was tough -- as good as there comes in that respect."

After retiring in 1962, Nolan spent six seasons as an assistant to Landry, his longtime friend and former teammate with the Giants. The 49ers hired him in 1968 to take over a franchise that had made just one playoff appearance in its 18 NFL seasons.

San Francisco went 7-6-1 in his first season before breaking through in 1970, going 10-3-1 and getting the 49ers' first playoff win at Minnesota before falling to Dallas in the NFC title game.

The 49ers made playoff appearances in 1971 and 1972, losing to the Cowboys both times. Nolan was in charge when the 49ers moved from Kezar Stadium near the Haight-Ashbury district to Candlestick Park on the shores of San Francisco Bay.

But the 49ers slumped to three consecutive losing seasons after their playoff appearances, and the same fans who once hailed Nolan as their savior booed the Niners and cheered for Nolan's departure.

"That was the toughest time, but that's the life of a coach," Mike Nolan said. "My dad never took it personally, and he didn't take it personally when it happened again in New Orleans."

Nolan then coached the Saints from 1978-80, going 15-29 with the perennially downtrodden franchise, which fired him after the Saints lost the first 12 games of the 1980 season.

Nolan scouted and enjoyed retirement before his health worsened. In his final months, he was visited by many of his former players. In September, 49ersHall of Famers Dave Wilcox and Jimmy Johnson joined Len Rohde and Ed Beard for an afternoon of reminiscing -- and Nolan recognized them.

"My father kind of lit up when he saw them, and he doesn't do that very often," Mike Nolan said.

Nolan is survived by his wife and six children. Funeral arrangements are pending.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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