New Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder was introduced today, the last step in a long process that finally puts VanGorder as the new man in charge of the Irish defense. The long-time defensive coach, whose connections to Brian Kelly go back over two decades, steps into the vacancy Bob Diaco left, shoes that seem to fit VanGorder quite nicely.
VanGorder spent a significant portion of time discussing just about every topic under the sun with the local media in attendance. His 5,000-plus words will likely serve as the largest look into the coach’s psyche until Kelly decides to change his media restrictions, as VanGorder gave a few insights into a coach that looks to be a departure from some core philosophies that Diaco held.
That being said, the similarities certainly outweigh the differences. VanGorder’s passion for teaching and excitement were quickly on display. They were also key factors as to why Kelly picked VanGorder as the next man to lead the Irish defense.
“The first thing I wanted in this position is a great teacher,” Kelly said. “I think first and foremost when you’re talking about the ability to bring together our defensive players, you need the ability to communicate and to teach, and Brian is one of the very best teachers, if not the best teacher, that I’ve ever been around.”
VanGorder will certainly have his opportunity to teach, needing to replace a significant portion of the front seven including key starters Louis Nix, Stephon Tuitt, Prince Shembo, Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese. While VanGorder didn’t discuss any core philosophies and steered clear of commenting on personnel or schemes, he did provide one readymade quote.
“I’m built to stop the run, and if you look at my record you’ll find that,” VanGorder said. “Most of the time, our defenses have been solid against the run. The Jets were 28th against the run the year before and this year, rush average per carry, we led the NFL and we were way ahead at one point in time.”
That comment might not play too well to certain constituents when it comes time to play Navy, but it serves as one of the key revelations that show why this hiring made perfect sense for Kelly. VanGorder also likely came highly recommended from strength and conditioning coordinator Paul Longo, who was one of VanGorder’s closest friends at Wayne State, where they both played football.
With Bob Diaco’s foundation laid, the Irish will now look to infuse a schematic element to their preparation, something that always seemed secondary to playing with sound fundamentals under Diaco. VanGorder talked a bit about the strategies he learned during his stops in the NFL, working under great defensive coaches like Jack Del Rio, Mike Smith and Rex Ryan.
“They opened the door to so much more respective to the game and the intellectual part of the game,” VanGorder said of his time in the NFL. “Over the last seven, eight years the growth in that area I think was a good combination for my personality and probably the most important years for me professionally.”
While VanGorder avoided any talk of decided advantages, he acknowledged the extra time the NFL allots to studying film and honing the craft. But he also talked about the universality that comes with being a defensive coordinator, and why the fit at Notre Dame seems so perfect.
“I’m a football coach,” VanGorder said. “What’s important to me now is the people that I work with, that the culture is one that is comfortable and shares some of those things that are the fabric of who I am. The culture is right, the standards and expectations are in line, and the mission is clear.”