Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Gene Chizik has ended his search for a defensive coordinator to replace Ted Roof, and the name is one that's already plenty familiar -- and plenty welcome -- to Auburn fans.
Per the Atlanta Falcons' official twitter feed, team defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder has informed Falcons' head coach Mike Smith that he has accepted an offer from Chizik and the Tigers to take over the same position at Auburn. VanGorder will replace Roof, who left under pressure for the coordinator's chair at UCF after three up-and-down seasons on the Plains.
"I personally want to thank Brian for all the hard work he put in for our football team and Atlanta," Smith said.
VanGorder and Auburn released a statement confirming the move:
“This is a tremendous opportunity for me and my family at this point in my career, both professionally and personally, to become the defensive coordinator at Auburn. I’m looking forward to working at a school with the success and tradition of Auburn, and for a coach like Gene Chizik, who has led the program to a national championship. I’m very appreciative to the Atlanta Falcons and Coach Mike Smith for the experience of the last four years. It’s a great organization and will have continued success in the future.”
"From the beginning of this process, I had one person in mind, and that was Brian," Chizik said in the statement. "He has achieved success at every level, both professionally and collegiately, which is a testament to his ability as a coach."
Though VanGorder has an extensive resume -- with assistants' stints for the Falcons and Jacksonville Jaguars, and one season as the head coach at Georgia Southern -- VanGorder is best-known to SEC fans for his four-year defensive coordinating tenure under Mark Richt, one that produced some of the finest defenses at Georgia during the Richt era. He was awarded the 2003 Broyles Award after coaching the Bulldogs to a fourth-place finish in total defense. After finishing 49th his first year in Athens, the Bulldogs would improve to 15th in 2002 (winning the SEC and the Sugar Bowl) and rank in the top 10 the next two seasons.
Though VanGorder enjoyed less success with the Falcons -- averaging a bottom-half 18th-place finish in total defense his four years as the team's coordinator -- Atlanta did improve all four years of his time in Flowery Branch, slowly moving from 24th to 12th.
In any case, VanGorder's Georgia tenure alone ensures that he'll be greeted warmly by Auburn fans frustrated -- even during their 2010 national title run -- by Roof's defense's struggles against the pass and general inconsistency. Those struggles hit a low point in 2011 as the Tigers set a school record for most points allowed in a season and ranked 11th i nthe SEC (in front of only hapless Ole Miss) in total defense.
VanGorder will have his work cut out for him in restoring the Tigers to the defensive heights scaled during the Tommy Tuberville era. But it's hard to see who Chizik might have hired that would have any better shot at accomplishing it than VanGorder. Chizik still has to hire an offensive coordinator as well, but this first step in his coaching staff reshuffling has been a hugely positive one.
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