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VanGorder happy to be back with Kelly

1/16/2014

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- In some ways, Brian VanGorder hasn't changed in the 23 years since he last worked for Brian Kelly, which drew Notre Dame's new defensive coordinator to the head coach in the first place.

"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, and I go way back with Brian."

Tuesday provided a reunion of sorts for the two Brians, who last coached together at Grand Valley State from 1989-91. From there VanGorder held 13 different posts at 11 different stops at the college and pro level, including five total years as an SEC defensive coordinator at Georgia (2001-04) and then Auburn (2012).

The 54-year-old VanGorder arrives from the New York Jets, where he coached linebackers for one season. He replaces Bob Diaco, who became UConn's head coach.

And while he wants to further familiarize himself with his personnel before he delves into schematics, his past year in the NFL did provide one hallmark that he intends to continue with the Irish.

"I'm built to stop the run," VanGorder said. "I think last year with the Jets, they were [26th] the year before against the rush. I know this year at least rush average per carry, we led the NFL, and for the most part we were way ahead at one point in time. So I think that part of it for me is all about your toughness. When a team can run the ball on you in our game, there's something about the toughness factor that affects me and how I feel about it."

What VanGorder lacks in the rah-rahness that Diaco brought, he more than makes up for in experience.

He counts Rex Ryan, Mike Smith, Jack Del Rio, Cam Cameron and Les Miles among his many mentors, and he expressed a shared philosophy as it relates to bouncing back and forth between college and the NFL.

"I've always just considered myself a coach," VanGorder said. What’s important to him now, he said, is that “ … the culture is right, the standards and expectations are in line, and the mission is clear. That's really what I'm looking for, so the opportunity to be here with Brian and to be at Notre Dame just makes it all that much more special."

At Wayne State, VanGorder played with Irish strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo, whom he called one of his best friends from college. He got to know assistant Mike Denbrock through their separate stints at Grand Valley State.

He has spent all but one year of his 25-year college and pro coaching career on the sideline -- a 2007 campaign spent upstairs as the Atlanta Falcons' linebackers coach.

Where VanGorder will reside inside Notre Dame Stadium this fall was one of many topics the Jackson, Mich., native was not ready to delve into during Tuesday's introduction. But for now, VanGorder is hoping to rekindle the same kind of success he had with his new boss the first time around.

"The one thing I really look forward to are the already established standards and expectations here of Notre Dame and the football program, and certainly the enthusiasm that he has brought to Notre Dame and that I'm going to be a part of," he said of Kelly. "For many years I've thought, as I admired Brian as he continually advanced, that maybe some day we'd get back together, and we had such a great time the first time around at Grand Valley, and I hope that we can do the same thing.”