GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — There are a lot of similarities between the first two seasons of the new iteration of the United States Football League for the Michigan Panthers.

The team held the first overall pick in the draft both years, they begin the season on the road and there is a new head coach with plenty of NFL experience. 

Mike Nolan, who spent 3 1/2 seasons as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers and another three decades as an assistant on 10 other staffs, replaced former Panthers head coach Jeff Fisher, who resigned in February to spend more time with his family. Fisher spent 31 years in the NFL and even led the Tennessee Titans to a Super Bowl appearance in 1999.

“I am very excited to join the USFL and the Michigan Panthers,” Nolan said in a statement. “Playing great football and competing at a high level is what the Panthers are going to be about.”

It can only go up for Michigan as the team finished just 2-8 in the inaugural season last spring. A win over the Pittsburgh Maulers in the last week of the season gave the team the first overall pick in this week’s draft, which they used on Michigan State offensive lineman Jarrett Horst. 

Horst will look to shore up an offensive line that will not only have one of the USFL’s top running backs in Reggie Corbin running behind it, but also protect one of three quarterbacks that have seen little to no USFL action. Both Shea Patterson and Paxton Lynch, the two quarterbacks drafted by Michigan a year ago, are no longer on the roster. 

But taking over a new team isn’t anything new for Nolan who has virtually spent the entirety of his life around different groups of players. His father Dick Nolan was the head coach of both the 49ers and New Orleans Saints in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. 

“As the son of a coach, I was blessed to be around the game and football players for all of my life,” Nolan said in a statement. “I love the game, but more importantly, I love the relationships that are created when competing for a common goal. My staff and I look forward to getting to work and beginning the process to make the Panthers the top team in the USFL.”

This will be Nolan’s first time back in a coaches role since 2021 when he was fired as the Dallas Cowboys’ defensive coordinator. He will now look to take over a defense that gave up the most points last season and had the second fewest takeaways. 

However, this season the Panthers will have the chance to play in front of a home crowd at Ford Field this season instead of being stationed in Birmingham, Alabama, all year. Nolan thinks that will go a long way in the team’s improvement. 

“It will take a loud and rabid fanbase to help us get there,” he said in a statement. “I’ve experienced the passionate fans of Michigan and Detroit while coaching against the Lions and I was always impressed. Our goal with the Panthers is to play with energy and pride for the entire state we represent. I want our fans to be proud to root for the Panthers.” 

The Panthers will begin their season on the road in Memphis, Tennessee, against the Houston Gamblers on April 16 and two weeks later will play their first game at Ford Field against the New Jersey Generals.