FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons found their new defensive coordinator from an NFC South rival’s coaching staff on Friday by hiring Ryan Nielsen, the former New Orleans Saints co-defensive coordinator.
Nielsen replaces Dean Pees, 73, who retired on Jan. 9 following two seasons in charge of the defense on coach Arthur Smith’s staff.
The Falcons also announced three defensive assistants will not return next season: defensive line coach Gary Emanuel, outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino, and secondary coach Jon Hoke.
Nielsen will be reunited with Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot, who worked 18 years with the Saints before he was hired by Atlanta in 2021.
Nielsen, 43, interviewed with the Falcons on Tuesday. He had worked on the Saints’ staff since 2017 and was the defensive line coach this season.
Nielsen’s success with the Saints’ pass rush may have impressed Fontenot. The Falcons ranked 31st with only 21 sacks this season after having the league’s fewest sacks in 2021. Atlanta ranked 27th in total defense, allowing 362.1 yards per game while finishing 7-10.
The Saints have recorded 282 sacks since Nielsen joined the staff in 2017, the second-most in the league during that span. New Orleans finished in the top 10 in sacks in five of the six seasons. The Saints finished in the top four in rushing defense in four of the last five years.
In Nielsen’s six seasons working with the Saints’ defensive line, Cameron Jordan became the first New Orleans defensive lineman to be named a first-team All-Pro. Jordan also earned two second-team All-Pro honors and was named to five Pro Bowls.
Nielson was a defensive assistant and recruiting coordinator at North Carolina State from 2013-16. He also coached at Northern Illinois, Tennessee-Martin, Central Connecticut State, Mississippi, Idaho, and Southern California.