NFL Experience Expanded Knowledge, Coach Says

Brian VanGorder talks about returning to college football and preparing the 2012 Auburn defense.

Auburn, Ala.--Brian VanGorder says that his four years spent as a National Football League defensive coordinator have made him a better coach as he heads into his second run as a college defensive coordinator in the Southeastern Conference.

VanGorder joined Coach Gene Chizik's Auburn staff in January after handling the same assignment for the Atlanta Falcons. Prior to leaving for the NFL to coach with the Jaguars in 2006, VanGorder's first coaching stop in the SEC was at Georgia, where he was defensive coordinator from 2001-2005.

"Obviously, I am much more knowledgeable in the game of football," he said, noting that all of his work hours were focused on nothing but football during his seasons in the NFL--five with the Falcons and one with Jacksonville.

"Basically, you play 16 games and four preseason games," he said of coaching in the NFL. "Fortunately, four of those years we were in the playoffs. You are close to almost having two college seasons so to speak in terms of numbers. I think your knowledge base can't help but grow in that area."

VanGorder said he believes the years in the NFL has taught him how to use his time more wisely and prepare more efficiently for the next game. He noted that when he was at Georgia it was common for him to be at the office at 1:30 to 2 a.m. "I was working late because you wanted to turn every stone to make sure players were well prepared," he said. "You don't want to get out there on a Saturday and all of the sudden there is something they are not ready for."

VanGorder and the Tigers will take the practice field next month for 15 days of spring drills.

"I think the thing that will always remain the same for me is my competitive nature," he said. "We want to be the best and that will be the standard and expectation. That will be the drive and the goal and that is no different than in 2001 when I went to the University of Georgia."

VanGorder noted that he and the other Auburn defensive coaches are evaluating their personnel to work with this spring for when the Tigers hit the field for their first practice, which is expected to be March 21st.

Asked if any position changes will be made during the spring, VanGorder said, "That is possible. That is one of the things that I might be a little different coming back into college football.

"To me the real art of coaching is to find out what players do well and then take advantage of that from a system standpoint," he noted. "Before it was more this is how we do it. A player either fit it or didn't, or maybe you were trying to force a player who had a weakness to do it a certain way.

"Coming back into college ball, I have just got to find out what the strengths are of each player and then systematically play to those strengths," VanGorder said. "That could lead to some position change. We just have to evaluate and see."

The coach pointed out that no position moves have been made so far as he has studied video of the 2011 season.

"There are a couple of different positions that we will create in some packages," he said, noting that the Tigers will run multiple looks for defensive their defensive alignments even though they will continue to be based out of a 4-3 front.

"We have got to find out who is going to fit that particular mode," he said. "I just don't know at this time. I have developed some ideas watching the guys, but that idea might involve four or five possible candidates right now. Until we really get them out there and see them, it is going to be a little difficult."

Brian VanGorder is shown coaching with the Atlanta Falcons.

VanGorder said that in his short time on Chizik's staff he has been pleased with how the transition has been going. "How we have done business up to this point has been a relief for me," he said. "Coming into it, it was one of my concerns."

The coach said one of the reasons he wanted to return to the college scene after having success as an NFL defensive coordinator was the opportunity to have more control of the defense, particularly the personnel.

"To be quite frank about it, a little bit of the business side is political in its makeup," he said of coaching in the National Football League. "I just felt like after four years I was to the point where I wanted to be more involved in selection of players and who was playing."

He noted that personnel decisions on NFL teams are sometimes based on financial considerations such as contracts, salaries and similar factors.

VanGorder added that coaching young NFL?players is much like coaching college players. He said that is not the case with veterans who have been in the league six or seven years and even longer. "They are what they are," he said.

"If there was something that maybe I missed about the college thing, specifically in coaching, it would have been that--the enjoyment of developing whether it was Odell Thurman from little Monticello at the University of Georgia or Thomas Davis out of Randolph-Clay. Those were good trips for three or four years to take someone who was not capable of playing college ball to All-American status. It is an enjoyable thing about what we do."

VanGorder said that being able to recruit players and develop them individually, and within a team framework, is the kind of challenge he thrives on. "Being able to choose he players that you want, and then set the standards and expectations, you either get the job done or you don't. You are either playing or you are not playing based on your production on the field. That and the development part, are attractive to me in college ball now that I?have been in both scenarios.

"I am a big believer that a player puts his name on it, a coach puts his name on it," VanGorder added. "If you are going to put your name on it you want every opportunity to have it the way you want it. Then it is either success or failure based on decisions you have made."

At Auburn, with its intense interest in football, high profile assistant coaches like VanGorder become well known to the general public in a short amount of time. VanGorder said he has discovered that he is already a familiar face in Auburn.

"I have learned there aren't many places you can go around here where people don't know who you are," he said with a smile. "I find I am saying War Eagle a lot."

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