The weird career of Brian VanGorder (gone from Notre Dame)

05 September 2015: Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder stands with his players in action during a game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Texas Longhorns at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, IN. (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

“Is that a high-school offense I see out there?” (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

Update: This was written a year ago. Brian VanGorder was fired today by Notre Dame. Another job awaits!

Paul Johnson may or may not hate Brian VanGorder’s guts — the Georgia Tech coach says he doesn’t, though I’m guessing that’s a fib — but this much is certain: VanGorder, lately the defensive of coordinator at Notre Dame, has had the strangest coaching career since Larry Brown. And Brown, for all his stops, is in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. The only Hall of Fame BVG is apt to grace is Century 21’s.

Actually, that’s not true. He’s in the Wayne State Hall of Fame. He played linebacker for the Tartars and was the head coach there from 1992 through 1994. (The team went 4-7, 6-5 and 6-5.) His coaching career began in 1981 at West Bloomfield (Mich.) High. He would work at three more high schools, all in Florida, over the next seven years. In 1989 he moved to college: Grand Valley State (three years), then Wayne State, then Central Florida (three more), Central Michigan (two) and Western Illinois (one). Then the new man in Athens, Ga., called, and away we go:

Georgia, 2001-2004: Lots of folks wondered why Mark Richt was hiring a defensive coordinator from Western Illinois, but BVG had worked alongside Willie Martinez — Richt’s Miami teammate and roommate — at Central Florida and Central Michigan. (Richt also hired Martinez to coach Georgia’s secondary, as we know.) In 2002, VanGorder’s stout defense — David Pollack was the biggest name but not nearly a lone star — helped lift the Bulldogs to their first SEC title in two decades. After a 30-0 win at Clemson in the 2003 opener, this correspondent wrote that the Tigers should fire Tommy Bowden as head coach and hire BVG instead. The man has made many stops since, but those four years in Athens stand as VanGorder’s greatest work.

Jacksonville Jaguars, 2005: Here’s where things got odd. Georgia had gone 34-6 over three seasons, whereupon BVG upped and left for the NFL — and not to be somebody’s defensive coordinator. To coach the Jags’ linebackers. Whoa, Nellie. But those linebackers were apparently pretty good. Jacksonville ranked sixth in the NFL in total defense.

Georgia Southern, 2006: Here’s where things turned ugly. BVG left the Jags after one season to become the Eagles’ head coach. Among his first move was to junk the spread option that Johnson had invented back in the ’80s when he was the offensive coordinator under Georgia Southern patriarch (and former Georgia defensive coordinator) Erk Russell and with which Johnson himself had won two Division I-AA championships as the Eagles’ head coach. Johnson recalls VanGorder saying he wanted to bring Georgia Southern “into the 21st Century.” Dan Wolken of USA Today reported last year that Johnson, then at Navy, was so steamed he called his old pal Roger Inman in Statesboro.

Wrote Wolken:

“VanGorder had made some comments that he didn’t think too highly of the offense, and Paul called me up and said, ‘I need to talk to (athletics director) Sam (Baker) and get Georgia Southern on the schedule,'” Inman said. “I said, ‘Why do you want to play us?’ And he said, ‘Because I want to beat the hell out of Brian VanGorder.’ “

The game never came off. VanGorder left after one 3-8 season in which he became despised, as opposed to merely disliked, by Georgia Southern fans. (The Eagles averaged under 22 points under BVG; they’d averaged 38 the previous season using the spread option.) Donald Heath of the Savannah Morning News interviewed the exiting VanGorder and wrote this:

“The media reported on things they didn’t know anything about,” VanGorder said. “But anyone who knows, if they walked in here (last year), a year later they’d see all the incredible things we’ve accomplished.”

And this:

“I had a vision at Georgia Southern, and in one year I thought we were accomplishing a lot,” VanGorder said. “But that vision wasn’t seen by everyone. … I think I’m ready to be a head coach. I’ve never been more sure. This just might not have been the right situation.”

VanGorder would have many more jobs; he hasn’t been a head coach since.

Atlanta Falcons, 2007: He left Georgia Southern, apparently just ahead of the posse, to coach linebackers for the team that had just hired Bobby Petrino as its head coach. (Mike Zimmer, who’s now the Minnesota Vikings’ head coach, was the defensive coordinator.) Petrino left after 13 games. BVG had his own exit strategy.

South Carolina, Dec. 17, 2007-Jan. 24, 2008: Five days after Petrino bolted for Arkansas, VanGorder accepted Steve Spurrier’s invitation to become South Carolina’s defensive coordinator. Here’s this from Pete Iacobelli of the Associated Press:

Spurrier said he got assurances from VanGorder — who had worked four different jobs the past four years — that he was ready to end his reputation as a coaching nomad. “I think at this point stability is very, very important to me and my family,” he said. “The three-year contract is nice and I think that’s a statement for everybody. My intentions are to be at South Carolina and to be there a long time.”

Heh, heh, heh.

Atlanta Falcons, 2008-2011: Mike Smith, who’d been the DC in Jacksonville when BVG was coaching linebackers, was named Falcons head coach and reached out to his former colleague, who in the span of 38 days apparently decided that stability was very, very overrated. In four seasons as the Falcons’ defensive coordinator, VanGorder was neither awful nor inspired. The defense did, however, get better as it went: From 24th in total yardage in 2008 to 21st in 2009 to 16th in 2010 to 12th in 2011. That latter number ranked as the best achieved by the Falcons’ defense in Smith’s seven seasons.

Smith probably wouldn’t have fired VanGorder after the 2011 season, which saw the Falcons slump from 13-3 to 10-6 and lose to the Giants 24-2 in the wild card round. Smith probably would have fired offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, though. As it happened, both coordinators left for different jobs — Mularkey to the Jaguars as head coach and BVG to Auburn as defensive coordinator. Both would last a year.

Auburn 2012: Two years removed from an unbeaten BCS championship, the Tigers went 3-9 (0-8 in the SEC) and got Gene Chizik and all around him fired. VanGorder’s defense was actually the better half of that astonishingly terrible team: It ranked 81st nationally. Scot Loeffler’s offense ranked 115th (of 120). Loeffler is now the OC at Virginia Tech.

New York Jets 2013: Back to the NFL as a linebackers coach, this time for Rex Ryan. The Jets went 8-8. The defense ranked 13th. The Jets beat the Falcons 30-28 in the Georgia Dome on a Monday night with Geno Smith at quarterback.

Notre Dame, 2014- : Irish coach Brian Kelly and BVG worked together at Grand Valley State, first as fellow assistants, then for one season with Kelly as head coach and BVG as DC. (Remember Grand Valley State? For VanGorder, that was 13 jobs ago.) Kelly had an opening because Bob Diaco, the coordinator who’d helped power the 2012 run to the BCS title game, had exited to coach UConn. In Year 1 under VanGorder, the Irish defense ranked 71st nationally. It had ranked 31st under Diaco in 2013, seventh in 2012. Believe it or not, there was thought that VanGorder might leave Notre Dame after one season to join the Raiders — and Jack Del Rio, who’d been BVG’s boss with Jacksonville — as defensive coordinator. (Him? Leave? Nah.) But that, for once, didn’t happen.

Totals: In 34 years, VanGorder has had 18 different jobs — at four high schools, 10 colleges (counting South Carolina) and four NFL teams (counting the Falcons twice). That’s one posting every 1.9 years. Ten of those years were spent in Georgia. Twelve were spent in a state that borders Georgia — plus the 5 1/2 weeks with South Carolina.

This long and winding road brings us to the present day. VanGorder’s defense limited Texas to 163 yards (ouch!) and three points in Week 1. The Irish fared less well in Week 2, surrendering 416 yards and 27 points to Virginia, picked to finish last in the ACC Coastal. (To be fair, the Cavs do have Matt Johns, whom Georgia fans will know as the man who beat out Greyson Lambert. Johns completed 26 of 38 passes for 289 yards and two touchdowns.)

And now Brian VanGorder’s defense gets to face Paul Johnson’s offense of the 20th, or perhaps 19th, Century. To quote a former Jets linebacker (though not one BVG coached): Can’t wait.

Reader Comments 0

131 comments
forexbomb
forexbomb

It just may turn out to be a defensive battle... I can dream..

WestsideJacket
WestsideJacket

Tech scores 4 touchdowns and 4 field goals.

ND scores 3 touchdowns and 1 field goal.

Tech 40

ND 24

gt51
gt51

i go by this old saying.  never trust a white man with a mustache. never trust a black man without one

NorwegianBlue
NorwegianBlue

I'm a Georgia guy so no dog in this fight really. CPJ is a great coach, but the record suggests BVG is also a great DC. Not sure what happened in Statesboro- I suspect he's just not HC material. But the GT-ND game should be fun to watch, and I'll root for the Jackets over the Irish all day long. 

TimDawg4260
TimDawg4260

Go BVG beat the scrap out of the yellow flies GO DAWGS !!!!!!!!!!!!

DrPhill
DrPhill

Good luck to Tech and Coach Johnson.

Blue Ridge Matt
Blue Ridge Matt

SO glad that the Dawgs have Pruitt now. No talk of bringing BVG back into the fold. 

Wreck13
Wreck13

Love your ENEMY and then PIZZ on his GRAVE......

mick1385
mick1385

You know its going to be good when the opposing teams newspaper is gloating. 


"Can't wait." 


So I guess this means *gasp* ND is relevant!


Atlanta probably doesn't get this hyped over a game with in state rival Georgia!


It'll be a tough game, but I would temper your enthusiasm, ND is down starters but we aren't the little sisters of the poor. 


See you Saturday, GO IRISH!

PeterNapa
PeterNapa

@mick1385 

>>Atlanta probably doesn't get this hyped over a game with in state rival Georgia!<<

Drop dead will you? Nothing is more ignorant than someone without exposure to an area attempting to judge that area. Sorry Atlanta isn't as advanced as...Indiana[?!] but we're not going to wet nurse condescending attitudes such as the one possessed by the likes of you.
I recall the Naval Academy, running the Paul Johnson offense POUND "the Irish" in your stadium. So no...we can't wait.

mick1385
mick1385

@PeterNapa @mick1385 just stating facts peternapa, you smell blood in the water because our qb broke his ankle, so does the journalist who wrote this slanted piece on Brian Van Gorder. 


I am familiar with the area, I've been to Atlanta many times, the last time was 06 when Brady Quinn and company escaped with their lives to start the season, one the most electric atmospheres I've ever been in. 


I recall the navy game too, it took triple overtime for paul johnson to beat a 3-9 Irish team. 


Irish have struggled with the option in the Kelly era as well, that's why I said it would be a tough game, but the majority of the GT fanbase including this journalist take the condescending title not I. 



PeterNapa
PeterNapa

@mick1385 @PeterNapa No Mick, I don't smell blood in the water "because [our] qb broke his ankle" The 3OT game was in 2007, ND also lost the 2009/10 games after Johnson left the Middies.

I assume you took some type of English classes there and they teach them at Navy too. This article isn't even about which team will win this game. It's about the ND defensive coordinator. Thus the title: The weird career of Brian VanGorder NOW AT NOTRE DAME. If Tech was playing any other school that employed Brian in a similar position the only words of the title that would be different are the last four.

PappyHappy
PappyHappy

This week's Jackets game will be the GAME OF THE WEEK.  PJ vs BVG?  That is unfair.  This game could cause BVG to uproot his family one more time.  Who knows?  He might end up as the linebacker coach at let's say ........ Rheinhart College in Waleska??? 

GMAB
GMAB

CPJ never forgets. " GO JACKETS "

OH:IO
OH:IO

Belk advertising on Finebaum


Priceless


go dogs

Grant1296
Grant1296

The joke is your 2013 bowl game sponsor ....

Bet they advertise everywhere .....

Grant1296
Grant1296

What's so "priceless" about it???

Dim Wit....

Wreck13
Wreck13

THE INSTITUTE 35 vs the Catholics 17. 

Birmingham__Jacket
Birmingham__Jacket

This game was circled by both teams in July as a key to 2015.  I'm not sure how effective it will be, but Notre Dame has been preparing for our offense since before the season.  I suspect that is partly why the UVA game was a scare for them.

Alan W. Francis
Alan W. Francis

@Birmingham__Jacket You are 100% correct. ND has both Navy and Ga. Tech this season--the only two triple option teams in the NCAA D-I. Some special attention to the option for quite awhile--not sure what that means-but we will see soon.

ND has played against the option of Navy for the past 5 seasons of Kelly's regime--so they've seen it and play against it for 60 minutes every season.

ND is not your typical 'deer in the headlights'  opponent for Ga. Tech by having some familiarity every season with the triple option.

 A few season's ago--ND's Defense came up with a good scheme to stop the Fullback & QB Dive Play off tackle and to play the QB & RB pitch plays by having Safeties and LB's mirroring them at the LOS---and Navy struggled to get any yardage.

ND is not going to "stop" Ga. Tech--but if Ga. Tech has to Punt--or loses some fumbles or has to claw for every yard---ND has a chance to out score them.

BTW---everyone is focused on the un-stoppable triple option... well ND's Offense can be highly efficient too. Almost every play ND runs has a good chance of success--especially pass plays.

ND runs the Pistol-the Read Option-the Spread---2-3 TE formations--Trips Left & Right and  even more styles of offense looking to get mismatches and missed assignments. Their offense is very hard to prep for with just three days of practice to handle it too.

Ga Tech better have 4-5 good coverage guys in their Secondary--and most college teams don't--because ND will find the weakest links and get some big passing plays.

Should be an interesting game...

Jack Sparrow
Jack Sparrow

Jackets are going to pound ND into the ground of their own stadium!!!!

StingerSplash
StingerSplash

PJ and Mike Smith are pretty tight. They've gone golfing in Scotland together. So I wonder what their conversations about BVG have been like over the years.

HeyThere
HeyThere

BVG is a complete and total scumbag. What he did to Georgia Southern will never be forgiven and, as apparently no coaches have ever noticed, nothing he has "accomplished" has been worthwhile since his days at UGA more than a decade ago.

OH:IO
OH:IO

@Wreck13


pathetic


Just like the football team and the fans.

ME78
ME78

@Wreck13  What does this have to do with the article?

Grant1296
Grant1296

Just like the complete moron Techeye, and his buddy POAD...

Hey POAD...You finally found someone dumb enough to click on your stupid links....

Congrats...

bigdoguga
bigdoguga

@Wreck13, If you have actually looked in the comments section of the video, it was from New Jersey. But nice try though. 

sh11
sh11

I don't know if I can ever forgive BVG for what he did at Georgia Southern.  It is hard to imagine one coach could do so much damage to one program in a year's time.  


As a Georgia Southern alum, I am forever grateful for Paul Johnson and what he accomplished at my school.  I will always be a PJ fan and will be rooting like crazy for Georgia Tech against ND.

HeyThere
HeyThere

@sh11 Have never pulled harder for Tech than I will this weekend

Rick_James
Rick_James

Tech just might score a hundred points..

FlatTire
FlatTire

@Rick_James I actually would like to see Tech run over ND and win by multiple touchdowns