If you ask the casual college football fan about Auburn's recent hire of Brian VanGorder as defensive coordinator, they might not have recognized the name. However, Van Gorder was one of the top defensive coordinators in the SEC during his stint with the Georgia Bulldogs from 2001-2004.
VanGorder arrived at Georgia with little fanfare. His three prior defensive coordinator jobs were at Central Florida, Central Michigan and Western Illinois. In other words, it was considered a lackluster hire.
It did not take long, however, for VanGorder to make a name for himself. The turnaround for the once-feared Bulldog defense was quick and fierce. In his first season in Athens, the Bulldogs improved to No. 18 in the nation in scoring and fifth in rush defense.
Year two would be a signature season for VanGorder. His Bulldogs defense would finish the season first in the SEC in scoring defense and fourth nationally. As a result, the Bulldogs finished the season 13-1 and No. 3 in the nation.
VanGorder was making a name for himself on the big stage on his way to be named Valvoline Southern Sports Tonight Assistant Coach of the Year.
The Bulldogs defense would be even better in 2003 as they finished No. 3 in the nation in scoring defense and fourth in total defense. VanGorder would once again reap the benefits of his stout defense, winning the Frank Boyles Assistant Coach of the Year award.
His final season in Athens would result in another top-10 defense nationally before he surprisingly bolted to the NFL to be a linebackers coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
How dominant were VanGorder’s defenses while at Georgia? The Bulldogs were 42-10 in his four seasons, but only twice did they lose by more than one touchdown. Moreover, the defense only gave up more than 30 points once in his entire stint.
In his final three seasons, the Bulldogs were defeated six times. However, it was the offense's fault each time. During those six losses the Georgia offense only averaged 11.2 points per game.
While it is not certain how quickly VanGorder will turn around the Auburn Tigers defense, you can be certain he will. In my opinion, by season two, the Tigers will have a top-10 defense nationally again.
The Tigers have not struggled in recruiting under head coach Gene Chizik. However, they have struggled with defensive consistency under him.
VanGorder’s bend but-not-break defensive philosophy will frustrate fans at times. However, it will lead to the Tigers' overall success. It is unlikely that the Tigers offense will ever be as productive as they were with Cam Newton and Gus Malzahn. The good news is that with VanGorder, they will not need it.
If VanGorder can find his college magic once again, the Tigers will be back in Atlanta sooner rather than later.