January 13, 2014 // Notre Dame Football

Brian VanGorder Officially Named Notre Dame Defensive Coordinator

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Brian VanGorder - Notre Dame Defensive Coordinator

New York Jets linebackers coach Brian Vangorder during training camp at SUNY Cortland. Mandatory Credit: William Perlman/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports

News broke a little over two weeks ago that Notre Dame tabbed Brian VanGorder as it’s next defensive coordinator to replace new UConn head coach Bob Diaco.  Monday Notre Dame made it official announcing the addition of VanGorder to Brian Kelly’s coaching staff.

Brian VanGorder has a resume that spans over 20 years coaching at both the collegiate and professional levels as a position coach, coordinator, and head coach.

VanGorder comes to Notre Dame after most recently coaching linebackers for the New York Jets for the 2013 season.  In New York Van Gorder worked on a defensive staff that ran head coach Rex Ryan’s 3-4 defense very well in 2013 – specifically at the linebacker position.  Under the coaching of VanGorder, both inside linebackers for the Jets collected over 100 tackles this season and outside linebacker Calvin Pace had a career year with 10 sacks at the ripe old age of 33.  Prior to 2013 Pace’s single season best was 8 sacks in 2009.

Before his one season with the Jets, VanGorder spent a year in the SEC – one of two stints for VanGorder in the SEC – as the defensive coordinator at Auburn under Gene Chizik.  Van Gorder did not return to Auburn this past season after Chizik was fired following the 2012 season.

VanGorder spent the previous five years before his one year run at Auburn in the NFL as the defensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons under Mike Smith.  While VanGorder was a member of the Falcons staff, Atlanta went to the playoffs three times in five years and won one NFC South title.  Along the way VanGorder’s defenses feature Pro Bowl players such as John Abraham and Brent Grimes.

Atlanta wasn’t the first NFL stop for VanGorder.  In 2005 he coached the linebackers of the Jacksonville Jaguars under defensive coordinator Mike Smith.  When Smith became the head coach of the Falcons in 2008 he brought VanGorder with him after VanGorder spent the 2007 season as head coach of Georgia Southern.

VanGorder first made a name for himself in 2001 when he was hired by Mark Richt to run the defense at Georgia.  Under VanGorder’s watch the Bulldogs consistently played great defense.  During the four years in which VanGroder was part of Mark Richt’s staff, Georgia finished in the top 25 all four years, won three bowl games including a Sugar Bowl win over Florida State in 2002, and produced four defensive first round NFL draft picks - Thomas Davis, Charles Grant, David Pollack and Johnathan Sullivan.

Before joining the Georgia staff, VanGorder had coaching stints at Western Illinois (2000, Defensive Coordinator), Central Michigan (1998-99, Defensive Coordinator),  Central Florida (1995-97, Linebackers and later Defensive Coordinator), Wayne State (1992-94), and Grand Valley State (1989-91).  It was at Grand Valley State where VanGorder worked with Brian Kelly and Mike Denbrock.

On the surface this looks like a fantastic hire for Brian Kelly and Notre Dame.  A homerun hire really.  VanGorder brings a wealth of experience as both a position coach and coordinator at big time programs along with head coaching experience.  And let’s be honest, he has a mustache that even Tom Selleck would be jealous of.

For most of his career VanGorder has run a 4-3 defense, but did spend the last year learning Rex Ryan’s 3-4 defense with the Jets so it is unclear which direction he will take the Notre Dame defense.

One thing is clear, however.  VanGorder will bet tasked with improving a defense that was ravaged by injuries, inconsistency, and poor tackling that never resembled the dominant unit that propelled the Irish to a berth in the national championship game just a year ago.  He replaces a defensive coordinator, Bob Diaco, who had his ups and downs while at Notre Dame from the disaster of the 2010 Navy game to last year’s wrecking ball of a defense to the meltdown in the title game and subsequent let down performance in 2013.

Diaco didn’t leave a bare cupboard for VanGorder though.  The Irish defense has potential star players at each level for next year with Sheldon Day at DE, Jaylon Smith at LB, and Keivarae Russell at CB.  VanGorder will, however, have to develop depth in a hurry at defensive line and find a combination of safeties that are assets, not liabilities to the defense in 2014.

Throughout the process of identifying his new defensive coordinator, Brian Kelly said multiple times that he wanted a defensive coordinator that could implement a system that featured multiple looks such as the one run by Diaco the last four years.  VanGorder’s year under Rex Ryan, one of the most successful implementers of the 3-4 defense combined with his previous experience with 4-3 defense should allow for him to do just that in South Bend.

VanGorder’s scheme will have to go on the back burner for a few weeks while he hits the recruiting trail hard over the next few weeks as Notre Dame looks to land another defensive tackle in this class following last week’s decommitment from Matt Dickerson while hopefully adding a few players in the secondary such as cornerback Terrence Alexander or safety JuJu Smith.

Notre Dame fans can now turn their attention to what Brian Kelly does to fill out his offensive staff following Chuck Martin’s departure for the head coaching job at Miami of Ohio.  If Kelly is as successful filling out that side of his staff as he was on the defensive side of the ball, Notre Dame fans will have something else to smile about after a rocky start to the new year.

Comments to this Article

  • JC commented on January 13th, 2014 at 11:25 pm

    The player’s “Need Somebody to Love!”

    [Reply]

  • JC commented on January 14th, 2014 at 12:08 am

    http://www.southbendtribune.com/sports/college/notredame/football/denbrock-makes-sense-as-kelly-s-next-move-at-notre/article_7cdec316-7cc8-11e3-8ad1-0019bb30f31a.html

    [Reply]

    JC replied on January 14th, 2014 at 12:33 am

    Jack,

    Spot on, looks like you got your 2 BK harmonious system coordinators; exclusively from the BK network!

    [Reply]

  • Shazamrock commented on January 14th, 2014 at 8:10 am

    I don’t think the players are the only ones who need somebody to love.

    Who are you talking to, and who is jack?

    [Reply]

    JC replied on January 14th, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    Drop dead gasbag! Albeit I like jeff’s definition of you better!

    Happy Trails!

    [Reply]

    Shazamrock replied on January 14th, 2014 at 2:16 pm

    You often sit up all night talking to yourself don’t you?

    “He’s so lonely he once paid a hobo to spoon with him”

    Yippee Ki yay…. Monkey Fluffer!

    [Reply]

  • bj commented on January 14th, 2014 at 10:05 am

    TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP)

    Southern California defensive line coach Bo Davis is leaving to work at Alabama six days after his hiring.

    USC announced Monday that Davis was leaving for a similar position with the Crimson Tide. Alabama does not announce such hires until coaches have signed contracts.

    Trojans coach Steve Sarkisian says he ”will move forward and find a great coach for our defensive line.”

    Alabama defensive line coach Chris Rumph reportedly took a position with Texas.

    Davis had spent three seasons coaching defensive tackles for the Longhorns. Before that, he had worked for Tide coach Nick Saban for eight of the previous nine years with Alabama, LSU and the Miami Dolphins.

    USC had announced his hiring on Jan. 7.

    Alabama has also hired former Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin as offensive coordinator.

    go central michigan, go grand valley state

    [Reply]

  • duranko commented on January 14th, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    This is a big step forward. This will shake things up on the defensive side of the ball. VanGorder has been under the gun in the golden years
    of the SEC (twice) and in the NFL. Guess he’ll be a little more likely to
    “challenge” the existing defensive coaches.

    The defensive side of spring practice will be fun to watch!!

    [Reply]

  • C-Dog commented on January 14th, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    Cautiously optimistic. But the more I read about VanGorder, the more I like on the X’s and O’s side of things. The Jet’s were tough when they had personnel. The fact that he knows both college and pros is good. Hopefully he remembers that college players have no unwritten rule to fall down when the defensive guy bounces into them. There is no players union in college. His years at Auburn, Georgia, and GVSU will serve him well. I am guessing he can adjust during the game too, something Diaco still needs to master.

    Hopefully some players will recommit, others who are waffling will commit, and hopefully VanGorder will bring some good staffers too.

    [Reply]

    Jack replied on January 14th, 2014 at 4:36 pm

    C-Dog,

    I like the fact he will run a 3-4 hybrid. He has also had one year under Sexy Rexy in NY which should be interesting. Rex was a hell of a D-coordinator. His defenses in B-more were nasty. VanGorder did wonders with the LB’s in NY which should be interesting at ND. Darrin Walls also gave him a vote of confidence.

    bj,

    By the way Nicky can have those USuC retreads. Kiffin is a jackass and a D-line coach that was at Texas last year. Texas’s defensive line was like a siv BYU abused them for over 500 yds of offense.

    [Reply]

    C-Dog replied on January 15th, 2014 at 3:00 pm

    JAck,
    Thanks for the info. I rarely watch the pros as I have no interest in most of their jail bait playrs. But it’s god information to know he’ll keep the basic defensive philosophy, albeit with his own approach ( we hope genius approach ).

    What happens at Alabama or PSU or USC is their business. I actually think Kiffin will do a good job at Alabama and will prefer to be coordinator. But that’s their deal. Kelly needs his own staff to work within the system.

    duranko posted an interesting comment regarding Van Gorder not mentioning the “schematic advantage” I’m sure he believes in X’ and O’s, bu he knows any competent coordinator should know their X’s and O’s. I am optimistic.

    [Reply]

  • C-Dog commented on January 14th, 2014 at 2:35 pm

    A bit of trivia information:

    Todd Lyght is defensive backs coach at the Philadelphia Eagles.

    Rick Minter is also an assistant there.

    I wonder if Lyght would ever return to ND.

    [Reply]

  • duranko commented on January 14th, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    Van Gorder certainly has a glittering resume. Also, if I remember correctly from the Georgia years, he coaches from the sideline, not the press box. A little more fire, a little less analytic.

    I wish Bob Diaco well, I really do. But sometimes he acted more like a philosophy professor than a fire-breathing football coach. My favorite Notre Dame defensive coordinator was, bar none, Johnny Ray, and
    while few human beings are as fiery as Ray was, Van Gorder is a step.

    Further, and this is sausage, there was a bit of an Iowa Old Boy undercurrent last year, and this is more sausage, I sometimes felt that Elliott was avuncular toward Diaco, possibly feeling he needed to help him get a head coaching job. Van Gorder has been in stormy meeting rooms at Athens, Auburn, Atlanta and the New Jersey swamps. You get the impression that he’s not afraid to challenge people and stir some controversy.

    The first robin of Van Gorder’s Spring that I will hope for is the Safety depth chart, a little less quantum physics and a little more closing to the ball and tackling in space.

    [Reply]

  • duranko commented on January 14th, 2014 at 7:30 pm

    You can see from his press conference, he’s very self-assured. He’s already tried head coaching and the NFL gig, and he may settle in and get in the same groove that Harry Hiestand occupies.

    Interesting how he talks about his relationship to the players, hard work and fun, ascertaining the skill set.

    Funny thing I never hear the phrase “we will have a schematic advantage in every game we play.” Hmmm, guess ol’ Brian Van Gorder believes it’s about the Jimmies and the Joes, more than it is about the X’s and O’s. What if he’s right??

    [Reply]

  • Jerry Seppanen commented on January 15th, 2014 at 11:58 am

    Sounds like a good hire but hope BK leaves him alone to coach. Kelly has
    said he want the same kind of defense which was sit back and read. Leave this
    guy alone.

    [Reply]

  • duranko commented on January 15th, 2014 at 4:18 pm

    Van Gorder was part of a Jets’ defense that allowed 54 yards and then 90 yards rushing to the Pats ground attack in two 2013 outings.

    He emphasized his distaste for yielding rushing yards in the press conference. Many talk it , few walk it.

    [Reply]

  • Dontae commented on January 15th, 2014 at 10:19 pm

    This has been the driest year in Notre Dame’s history. where is the spunk? We hire corniest Staff in the country. Where is the spunk? Where is the spark? Coach Kelly needs to get over himself and bring in some more livelier Coaches. These Coaches Suck!

    [Reply]

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