He's developed players at nearly every level of the sport.
"He understands player development, and so anyone that I want to be around on a day-to-day basis has to understand the important principles of player development in bringing them along and really understanding how important it is to get those traits out of our players," said Kelly of a trait he offered among his personal best nearly five years ago when he took the head coaching job at Notre Dame. "They're not ready made. The players that we bring here to Notre Dame, we have develop them, and not just on the football field, but off the field as well.
"Being a high school coach makes him uniquely qualified to understand player development," Kelly continued. "Being in Division II at Georgia Southern as a head football coach, being in the SEC (as a coordinator at Georgia and Auburn), obviously being in the NFL (as a position coach at Jacksonville, Atlanta, New York Jets)."
Seven of VanGorder's last nine years were spent in the professional ranks including the longest stint of his 25-season coaching career, a five-year stay with the Falcons, the latter four spent as the team's defensive coordinator.
Asked if coaching at the highest level would provide any advantages for his newest challenge, VanGorder offered, "Oh, I think so, I think so. In all fairness, you know, you think about our college job description, and we all know that includes a lot of recruiting and time on the road. And you think in the NFL, you don't do that. You come to work and at 8:00 you put the film on and you start quality controlling and studying football, you know, until 4 or 5:00, and so that's your life.
"You get to dissect and digest. So it gives you the opportunity, I think, to really develop in the game differently. It prepares you for a lot of things."
VanGorder will begin preparing an Irish defense that lost two starting defensive linemen, three starting linebackers and one starter from the defensive backfield.
Aggregate games started by those six athletes? A whopping 181 with another 35-plus played in key reserve roles.
VanGorder though is concerned only with the talent on hand -- and learning much more about it to tailor a scheme that will fit their collective strengths.
"My experience tells me to always do a good job evaluating the current talent, the current players and then make decisions that best play to their strengths," said VanGorder when asked about the type of defense he intends to feature. "So that's the process that we'll be in right now. I think that no matter what you run schematically, the idea of our players' enthusiasm for what they're doing and their standards and expectations are relative to whatever we do, whether it's 4-3, 3-4, all those kinds of things that we like to talk about."
VanGorder prefers to coach from the sidelines
Asked to pinpoint his new unit's strength, at least what can be gleaned through is recent film study, VanGorder offered, "I like our players' intensity. You can see their body language and enthusiasm. They're all in…that's the most important thing is you build scheme and all those things moving forward. But that's what I like. I like their enthusiasm and their commitment to excellence and they represent Notre Dame, so that's the way it should be."
Despite the loss of the aforementioned six starters, Notre Dame's defense returns 18 players that have held down positions on the team's two-deep depth chart, either as starters or in heavy rotation roles from scrimmage.
After declining to comment on specific Irish players, VanGorder offered that his coaching style in college naturally differs from that during his stints in the NFL.
"High standards and expectations bring about intense moments," he offered. "The players will get that with me when it's called for. When it's time to do business, it's time to do business. My expectations are that people are dialed in and focused on the task at hand.
"But you know, when it's time to have fun, it's time to have fun, and I think…you have to do that. We want to drive them hard, but we really want them to know while we're doing that that we care about them."
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