POPE: Brian VanGorder’s experience will benefit Irish
By LaMond Pope 713-2691 or firstname.lastname@example.org January 14, 2014 11:34PM
Brian Van Gorder talks to the media during a press conference introducing him as Notre Dame's new defensive coordinator Tuesday Jan. 14, 2013 in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Joe Raymond)
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Updated: February 16, 2014 6:41AM
SOUTH BEND — It was 2005 and Brian VanGorder had just started the transition from Georgia to the NFL as the linebackers coach at Jacksonville.
He stood near a group of players, clapped his hands and said “let’s go.” Mike Peterson, a middle linebacker for the Jaguars, had a message for VanGorder.
“And he said, ‘hey, rookie, this is a marathon,’ ” VanGorder said Tuesday. “And literally that’s how the NFL players saw, it was this 16‑game schedule and the four preseason games and he was going, ‘hey, it’s a long way before we get there.’ So he kind of was telling me like, you know, slow down a little bit.”
VanGorder said that discussion helped with the jump to pro game.
But VanGorder saw a bigger picture, that player development, while different, was vital at any level.
VanGorder’s time in the NFL will be a big benefit as he takes over as the defensive coordinator at Notre Dame.
“He understands player development, and so anyone that I want to be around on a day‑to‑day basis has to understand the important principles of player development in bringing them along and really understanding how important it is to get those traits out of our players,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “They’re not ready made. The players that we bring here to Notre Dame, we have to develop them, and not just on the football field, but off the field as well.
“Brian understands that. His background coming with me, starting at Grand Valley State, but before that, being a high school coach makes him uniquely qualified to understand player development. Being at the high school ranks, being in Division II at Georgia Southern as a head football coach, being in the SEC, obviously being in the NFL, understanding player development was huge in the selection of the defensive coordinator here.”
What does Notre Dame get with the addition of VanGorder?
The team gets a coach that has had success in both college and in the pros.
While at Georgia (2001-04), he led teams that finished in the top 10 nationally in several defensive categories. The 2004 team finished eighth nationally in total defense and ninth in scoring defense. The 2003 squad ranked third in scoring defense and fourth in total defense.
That carried over to the NFL during his time as the defensive coordinator with the Atlanta Falcons (2008-2011, he was the team’s linebackers coach in 2007).
In 2009, Atlanta improved 15 spots in rush defense from the previous season. In 2010, the Falcons placed in the top five in the NFL in scoring defense (18.0, fifth), turnover differential (plus-14, third) and interceptions (22, fourth).
He spent one year as the defensive coordinator with Auburn before going back to the NFL as the linebackers coach with the Jets.
VanGorder knows the college game has changed some since his time with the Bulldogs.
“I think that the tempo game has changed how we see defense and how we evaluate a defensive staff, because we’re seeing ourselves now defend some 85, 90 plays in games,” he said. “And so that’s changed. If you’re a defensive coach and your offense is no huddle, you better get ready for that. So you gotta plan way ahead in respect to the depth of your team and all those things that make sense for success.”
VanGorder didn’t want to get too specific in terms of scheme and individual players. But he was impressed with what he saw on the film.
“I like our players’ intensity,” he said. “You can see their body language and enthusiasm. They’re all in, and so that’s, again, that’s the most important thing is you build scheme and all those things moving forward.
“But that’s what I like. I like their enthusiasm and their commitment to excellence and they represent Notre Dame, so that’s the way it should be.”
And he also likes being reunited with Kelly.
“We worked really well together,” VanGorder said. “I think that our players reflected that as you watched them play. And I just think that we have personalities that worked well together and anticipate that that’s remained the same, and we’ll enjoy that same kind of relationship here at Notre Dame.”