Jan. 13, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Brian VanGorder, a former college head football coach who also has successfully coordinated defenses in both the National Football League and the Southeastern Conference, has been named the new defensive coordinator at the University of Notre Dame.
Irish head football coach Brian Kelly made the announcement today.
VanGorder, who originally worked with Kelly as his defensive coordinator on the Grand Valley State staff more than two decades ago, brings to the Irish college head coaching experience at Wayne State (1992-94) and Georgia Southern (2006), seven seasons of NFL work, plus five combined years as a defensive coordinator at both Georgia and Auburn in the SEC.
VanGorder served as the New York Jets linebacker coach during the 2013 season. He mentored the tandem of David Harris (123) and DeMario Davis (107), which combined for 230 tackles this past season. The Jets were one of 10 teams in the NFL with multiple linebackers that eclipsed 100 stops. Only two teams across the league had a pair of inside linebackers combine for more tackles: San Francisco 49ers (NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis, 249) and Philadelphia Eagles (DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks, 233).
VanGorder was also instrumental in the re-emergence of outside linebacker Calvin Pace as a dominant pass rusher. The 2003 first-round choice of the Arizona Cardinals totaled 13 sacks over the three seasons before VanGorder arrived in Gotham. In fact, Pace managed just seven and a half sacks combined in 2011 and 2012, including only three in ’12 (his fewest since 2006). Yet, under VanGorder, Pace finished the 2013 season with 10 sacks and reached double digits for the first time in his 11-year NFL career. Pace was one of nine linebackers in the NFL to accomplish that feat.
Prior to his stint as the defensive coordinator at Auburn in 2012, VanGorder guided the Atlanta Falcons’ defense from 2008-11. The Falcons achieved unprecedented heights, posting four consecutive winning seasons (a franchise first), including playoff appearances in 2008, 2010 and 2011. His defenses consistently showed marked improvements along the way.
Helping the Falcons to a 10-6 regular-season record in 2011, VanGorder’s defense finished the regular season second in the NFL in red-zone defense, sixth in rushing defense (97.0 yards per game) and 12th in total defense (333.6 yards per game).
In 2010, the Falcons finished 10th in the NFL in rushing defense, allowing 105.9 yards per game, which ranked fifth in the NFC. The run defense was not the only part of the defense that showed improvement in 2010. VanGorder’s defense ranked in the top five in the NFL in scoring defense (18.0, fifth), turnover differential (+14, third) and interceptions (22, fourth), marking highs for VanGorder’s defense during his tenure.
With the leadership of VanGorder, cornerback Brent Grimes earned his first career Pro Bowl selection in 2010 after posting a single-season franchise-high 23 passes defensed, and tying for the team lead in interceptions (five), while adding 82 tackles. His 23 pass breakups ranked second in the NFL in 2010.
John Abraham earned his fourth career Pro Bowl selection in 2010 as he led all defensive ends in sacks (13.0), and added 43 tackles, four passes defensed, two forced fumbles and one interception. He also garnered his third selection to the All-Pro team under the guidance of VanGorder (who joined the rest of the Falcons’ coaching staff for the 2011 NFL Pro Bowl).
In 2009, Atlanta’s rush defense finished tied for 10th best in the NFL (sixth in the NFC), allowing an average of only 106.8 yards per game. The ranking was 15 spots better than the previous 2008 campaign. Under VanGorder’s leadership, the Falcons’ 2009 rush defense only allowed one 100-yard rusher all season and posted a streak of 10 consecutive quarters without a touchdown allowed from the second quarter of Week 15 to the fourth quarter of Week 17.
In 2008, VanGorder started the retooling process to transform the Falcons’ defense into a unit that played with intensity, passion, aggression and toughness. His troops responded by making steady improvements along the way and proved downright stingy when it came to surrendering points. The Falcons, under VanGorder’s guidance, finished 11th in the NFL in points allowed at just an average of 20.3 per contest.
With VanGorder’s direction, linebacker Curtis Lofton played a pivotal role in developing the defense. He earned a starting spot in the middle of the defense as a rookie, garnering NFL All-Rookie accolades from Sporting News and Pro Football Weekly, and finished second in the league among all rookies with 108 stops.
Prior to his arrival with the Falcons, VanGorder was the head coach at Georgia Southern in 2006. VanGorder spent the 2005 season coaching the linebackers for the NFL Jacksonville Jaguars under current Falcons head coach Mike Smith. Jacksonville ranked sixth in the NFL in total defense that season with VanGorder’s help.
During VanGorder’s tenure in Athens (2001-04), Georgia won one SEC title, two SEC East Division championships, captured three bowl games and ended up with three straight top-10 finishes in the final national polls. VanGorder’s Bulldog defenses included four first-round NFL draft picks (Thomas Davis, Charles Grant, David Pollack and Johnathan Sullivan) while also seeing four players earn All-America recognition (Boss Bailey, Davis, Sean James and Pollack).
Georgia posted a 42-10 record over VanGorder’s four seasons with the Bulldogs. In his last year at Georgia in 2004, the Bulldogs went 10-2 and finished the season ranked seventh in the nation. Georgia produced a defense that ranked eighth overall and ninth in scoring defense. VanGorder’s 2003 defensive unit finished third nationally in scoring defense, fourth in total defense and sixth in passing defense.
In 2002, Georgia’s defense allowed only 31 points during the final seven games, propelling the Bulldogs to a Sugar Bowl win over Florida State (26-13) and a number three ranking overall in the polls. His strong defense also led the SEC in scoring defense and finished fourth nationally.
VanGorder also had college coaching stints as an assistant at Western Illinois (2000), Central Michigan (1998-99), Central Florida (1995-1997), Wayne State (1992-1994) and Grand Valley State (1989-91).
Born in Jackson, Mich., VanGorder graduated from Wayne State in 1992 with a B.S. degree in criminal justice. He was a four-year letterman for the Tartars (1977-80). He collected 335 career tackles, which ranks seventh in school history. VanGorder was inducted into the Wayne State University Hall of Fame in 2013. He has five children: Molloy, Morgan, Mack, Montgomery and Malone.
The VanGorder FileYear School/Franchise Assignment1989 Grand Valley State Linebackers (11-1, Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference champion, NCAA Division II playoffs)1990 Grand Valley State Linebackers (10-2, NCAA Division II playoffs)1991 Grand Valley State Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers (9-3, NCAA Division II playoffs)1992 Wayne State Head Coach (6-5)1993 Wayne State Head Coach (6-5)1994 Wayne State Head Coach1995 Central Florida Linebackers/Special Teams Coordinator (6-5)1996 Central Florida Linebackers/Special Teams Coordinator1997 Central Florida Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator1998 Central Michigan Defensive Coordinator (6-5)1999 Central Michigan Defensive Coordinator2000 Western Illinois Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers (9-3)2001 Georgia Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers (8-4, Music City Bowl, #22 AP, #25 USA Today)2002 Georgia Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers (13-1, SEC champion, Sugar Bowl champion, #3 AP and USA Today)2003 Georgia Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers (11-3, SEC East champion, won Capital One Bowl, #6 USA Today, #7 AP)2004 Georgia Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers (10-2, won Outback Bowl, #6 USA Today, #7 AP)2005 Jacksonville Jaguars Linebackers (12-5, NFL Wild Card)2006 Georgia Southern Head Coach2007 Atlanta Falcons Linebackers2008 Atlanta Falcons Defensive Coordinator (11-6, NFL Wild Card)2009 Atlanta Falcons Defensive Coordinator (9-7)2010 Atlanta Falcons Defensive Coordinator (13-4, NFL South champion)2011 Atlanta Falcons Defensive Coordinator (10-7, NFL Wild Card)2012 Auburn Defensive Coordinator2013 New York Jets Linebackers (8-8)
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