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Mike Nolan's Coaching Knows No Boundaries

The San Diego Chargers' new linebacker coach utilized his skills outside the lines to offer support to an ailing youngster.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In the tensest of moments, new San Diego Chargers' linebacker coach Mike Nolan really knows how to coach ‘em up.

In his 34 seasons as an NFL and college football position coach, defensive coordinator, and head coach, there isn't a down or situation that Nolan hasn't seen. He also knows a word of encouragement or a pat on the back at just the right moment can help his charges overcome adversity.

It is a trait Nolan honed in places like Eugene, Ore., Palo Alto, Calif., Houston and Baton Rouge not to mention Denver, New York and San Francisco. But his skill and enthusiasm for coaching don't stop at the edges of the field. Nor is it limited to the fastest, biggest, and strongest athletes on earth.

Take the time in the spring of 1998, when Nolan was defensive coordinator of the Washington Redskins.  He had heard through a family friend that a child in his son's elementary school was soon to have back-to-back brain surgeries to address an epileptic seizure disorder.  Neither Mike nor his wife, Kathy, knew the family but they were certainly acquainted with the power of positive thinking.  And they understood the impact a personal visit with an NFL coach of the hometown team could have on a nervous 12-year-old boy and his family.

Without fanfare, Mike and Kathy made plans to visit the family the weekend before the young man was to enter Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. They didn't arrive empty handed, either, hauling Redskin pennants, t-shirts, posters and even a stuffed animal wearing a Redskins' helmet for the boy's little 8-year-old sister. Nor did they rush to leave.

As word spread through the neighborhood that the Skins' defensive coordinator was visiting that evening, the family room was filled with youngsters asking for autographs and a chance to catch a football from an NFL coach.

Mike, ever the coach, made sure to carve out time to offer his support for the youngster facing surgery.  Meanwhile, Kathy regaled his parents with stories of the vagabond lifestyle of being a coach's wife and mother of four children.

I recall it so well because the boy is my son, Danny, now 29. The surgeries, by famed pediatric neurosurgeon and likely 2016 presidential candidate Ben Carson, were largely successful.  And the visit by Mike and Kathy Nolan did much to boost his spirits and self-confidence to face the challenge of a lifetime.

End of story? Not really.  The Nolans made a point to inquire about Danny after the surgery and, when Mike later became head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, showered us with more memorabilia, only in a different shade of red.

Nolan's extensive football experience and expertise speak for themselves. Clearly, the Chargers have now hired themselves an outstanding coach.  As a bonus, they hired an even better man.