Skip to main content

Defensive coordinator VanGorder back with Falcons, for now

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Brian VanGorder might spend several seasons as the Atlanta Falcons' defensive coordinator.

Then again ...

For a coaching veteran who's held six different jobs with five teams since the start of 2004, VanGorder seemed at peace Tuesday on the second day of Atlanta's voluntary minicamp.

"What we're looking for is to help our players understand the terminology of the scheme," the 48-year-old VanGorder said.

Few coaches are as qualified as VanGorder in adapting to a new situation.

His one-and-done approach would rival that of any NFL or major college assistant over the past five years.

VanGorder was a respected coordinator at Georgia before leaving the Bulldogs to become Jacksonville's linebackers coach in 2005.

Georgia Southern hired him as head coach the following year, but VanGorder quit following a 3-8 season.

His new boss, Bobby Petrino, beat him out the door in 2007, abruptly resigning to head for Arkansas, leaving a 3-10 team to sort through the final three weeks.

After Petrino left on Dec. 11, VanGorder needed just eight days before Steve Spurrier introduced him as defensive coordinator at South Carolina.

Within four weeks, VanGorder was back in the NFL when Petrino's replacement, Mike Smith, announced him as Atlanta's coordinator.

"You know, as I look at my career, I made one questionable decision, but I still look at that as a positive," VanGorder said about the disappointing stop at Georgia Southern.

"It was a good experience. Wherever you are, you meet good people, and I choose to look at all these experiences as being positive."

VanGorder's new job with the Falcons could bring some stability to his wife and family. He knows that Smith, unlike the elusive Petrino, has embraced his role with Atlanta and promises to stay as long as he's wanted.

"My situation last year was one that I just didn't have any control of with Bobby leaving," VanGorder said. "The tough thing for me as a father of my five children, we've had to move around, change schools and my wife's had to start anew in communities with friendships and those sorts of things. Coaching football is coaching football. We can really do that anywhere, but my family -- that's the part that's been really difficult."

It should help, too, that Smith hired two of VanGorder's co-workers in Jacksonville, defensive line coach Ray Hamilton and secondary coach Alvin Reynolds.

VanGorder also spent last season alongside Emmitt Thomas, a Falcons assistant since 2002 and the man owner Arthur Blank asked to work as Petrino's interim replacement in the final three weeks of last season.

"Fortunately, being in the Jacksonville system, it's not a difficult transition for me," VanGorder said. "From where I stand and from where my eyes are, I'm a little bit on the run because I've been so focused on linebackers."

VanGorder expects two of his returning starters, middle linebacker Keith Brooking and weakside linebacker Michael Boley, to help younger players adjust.

Along with veteran standouts like right end John Abraham and strong safety Lawyer Milloy, Brooking and Boley will take on more leadership at the next minicamp, mandatory sessions that will include the 2008 rookie class.

VanGorder also is familiar with other experienced defenders like cornerback Chris Houston and ends Jamaal Anderson and Chauncey Davis. All three played on a unit last season that finished 29th in total defense.

Smith said that VanGorder will have full autonomy on Sundays.

"It's Brian's defense," Smith said. "On game day, I'm going to be the head football coach and be involved in the overall management of the game more than calling offenses or calling defenses."

VanGorder doesn't deny that one day he'd like to work as a head coach in the NFL ... or possibly for a major college program.

But he promises to give undivided attention to helping the Falcons regain some swagger in 2008.

As for 2009?

"It's a privilege to work in the National Football League," VanGorder said. "It's a privilege to coach football for a living. I love it out here."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.