Brian VanGorder May Be Targeted for Raiders DC Job


Oct 11, 2014; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder watches from the sideline in the first quarter against the North Carolina Tar Heels at Notre Dame Stadium. Notre Dame won 50-43. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Reports today began to surface that Jack Del Rio was targeting a coach from the college ranks to be his defensive coordinator in Oakland, just days after former Atlanta Head Coach Mike Smith and names of other current NFL assistants had been linked to the job.

While Del Rio and the organization are playing it close to the vest, one name has emerged that fits the bill.

Brian VanGorder is currently the Defensive Coordinator at the University of Notre Dame, a position he has only held for one season. VanGorder is a seasoned assistant coach at both the college and pro level, and has held college head coaching positions in the past. He also has a link to Del Rio, having served on Del Rio’s staff in Jacksonville in 2005 in his first NFL job, as well as serving as Del Rio protege Mike Smith’s Defensive Coordinator with the Atlanta Falcons from 2008-2011.

VanGorder, a former college linebacker, started coaching at the high school level in 1981. He got his first college job at Grand Valley State, a Division II program in Michigan. He spent two years there as a DC and LB’s coach before getting his first head coaching job at his alma mater, Wayne State, where he had a 16-17 record in three years. He then bounced around a few other schools from 1994 until settling at the University of Georgia, where he served as defensive coordinator under Mark Richt.

From 2002 through 2004, VanGorder’s defenses were among the best in the nation, and put a number of players into the NFL, like Jonathan Sullivan, Thomas Davis, David Pollack and Odell Thurman.

His success at Georgia caught the eye of Jack Del Rio, who was entering his third year as head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Del Rio hired VanGorder as his linebackers coach for the 2005 season, working with a group that included Mike Peterson, Daryl Smith and Akin Ayodele. In 2005, the trio of linebackers accounted for 218 tackles, 12.5 sacks, four interceptions and four forced fumbles as the Jaguars defense was the sixth best in the league in both scoring and yards allowed. It was Peterson’s most productive season as a pro.

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VanGorder was offered and accepted the head coaching position at Georgia Southern University after the season. It was an unmitigated disaster, as Georgia Southern experienced the worst football season in school history. VanGorder resigned after the season and was hired back in the NFL as part of Bobby Petrino’s staff, working as the linebackers coach with DC Mike Zimmer.

Atlanta’s defense was nowhere near as good as Jacksonville’s, but VanGorder maximized the production of linebackers Keith Brooking, Michael Boley and Demorrio Williams, who combined for 240 tackles, five sacks and four interceptions on the year. Petrino quit on the team late in the year, and VanGorder’s former DC in Jacksonville, Mike Smith, was named head coach.  Smith immediately tapped VanGorder as his Defensive Coordinator. VanGorder’s defenses improved season by season, and legendary pass-rusher John Abraham enjoyed the two best seasons of his career under VanGorder, including his 2010 first team All-Pro season.

After the 2011 season, VanGorder took a job offer to be the defensive coordinator at the Auburn University. VanGorder’s Atlanta defenses finished in the top half of the league in scoring defense in three of his four years there, and in his final year there finished 12th in total defense and sixth in rushing defense.

VanGorder only spent a year at Auburn and was gone after Gene Chizik was fired there. In 2013, he was hired by Rex Ryan to be the linebackers coach of the Jets, where he worked with Ryan’s quartet of 3-4 linebackers, including David Harris, Quintin Coples and Calvin Pace. The four combined for 194 tackles and 17.5 sacks and the defense finished ranked 11th in total defense and 3rd in rush defense. But the college ranks called out to VanGorder once more, and he returned to Notre Dame to take over as defensive coordinator for Brian Kelly.

While his 2014 Notre Dame defense was not nearly as dominant as his Georgia defenses, he managed to accomplish a lot with defensive back Matthias Farley, who in only four games this year had four sacks and four interceptions and 38 tackles – all career highs.

VanGorder fits the profile of many of Del Rio’s hires so far in Oakland. He’s a former Del Rio assistant, and has been an NFL defensive coordinator in the past. Like Sal Sunseri – who was announced today as the new Raider linebackers coach – he has far more extensive college experience than pro, but he does have pro experience, and much of that experience is with Del Rio or with Del Rio’s friend Mike Smith.

If VanGorder is the mystery candidate, it would make sense in the context of Sunseri, as the two both come from solid linebacker backgrounds and would be expected to develop Khalil Mack and Sio Moore. While VanGorder hasn’t stayed long in very many places, just three or four years of his influence on the two young linebackers could do wonders for them.