It would be just like Auburn to try and steal a little thunder from Alabama on the day of the National Championship Game, wouldn’t it? On Monday afternoon, the Head Coach for the Atlanta Falcons, Mike Smith, announced that his Defense Coordinator, Brian Van Gorder, would be taking the open Defensive Coordinator Job with the Auburn Tigers. Kind of a strange way to introduce a coach but the Falcons are probably going to part ways with both of their coordinators after getting embarrassed in the playoffs and the Falcons probably wanted to give them both a soft landing spot.
Just one year removed from winning the National Championship, Auburn lost both of it’s coordinators this season after finishing 8-5. OC Gus Malzahn took a Head Coaching gig in the Sun Belt and Ted Roof briefly joined old buddy George O’Leary at UCF before somehow being hired by Penn State to run their defense (awful hire by PSU but that’s for another column). I think Gene Chizik hiring Brian Van Gorder (BVG) is a really solid hire. It’s not a guaranteed home run but it’s a big step up from Ted Roof.
BVG is no stranger to the SEC. He made his name at the University of Georgia as a DC under Mark Richt. BVG was a DC at UCF, Central Michigan and Western Illinois before he was hired by Georgia in 2001. BVG had three really good years under Richt from 2002-2004 as they never allowed more than 16 points per game in those years and hit double digits wins every year. BVG had some really good talent to work with during this time as his tenure saw guys like David Pollack, Odell Thurman, Thomas Davis, Tim Jennings, Sean Jones, Tony Taylor, Jermaine Phillips, Boss Bailey, Kedric Golston and Greg Blue. BVG had a lot of NFL talent to work with during those four years. If BVG stays at Auburn for a few years then the combination of his coaching and Trooper Taylor’s recruiting could be a tough match-up for the rest of the SEC.
It’s been a while since BVG has been in the SEC. He had a short stint with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Then he had a disastrous year as Head Coach for Georgia Southern. After that he spent five years with the Atlanta Falcons, four as Defensive Coordinator. I think the best description of BVG’s overall tenure with Atlanta would be the term “average”. The Falcons never achieved the level of success BVG and Mike Smith wanted but they also struggled to find the right personnel and keep everybody healthy.
It’s been seven years since BVG has been in the SEC. I think he’s going to be reinvigorated to be back in college and I think he will have an immediate impact at Auburn. That being said, Auburn just doesn’t have the personnel right now that LSU and Auburn (and even Georgia) have so it’s going to take a while for Auburn to become one of the top defenses in the league. Statistically Auburn was 11th in the league in scoring defense and total defense and that’s not going to change overnight. There will also be a learning curve for BVG as he has to adjust to all of the changes in the collegiate offensive game over the last seven years. BVG will get Auburn to be one of the better defense in the SEC if he has the time.
The key will be how long he sticks around. The five years BVG stayed with the Falcons were the longest he has stayed at any job since he started coaching. Besides that stint and the Georgia job, he’s never stayed at a job more than three years. Auburn will improve on defense next season, but it will be year two or three before you really start to see the big improvements. It’s a double-edged sword when you hire a coordinator in the SEC. If they are too good then they are going to get a Head Coaching job pretty quickly and if they aren’t good enough then you have to get rid of them to save your own job. BVG has a tough job ahead of him at Auburn, it will be interesting to see how quickly he can turn it around with the likes of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and LSU on the schedule every year.