Brian VanGorder takes lessons from Rex Ryan to Notre Dame

Posted by: Chris Vannini on Tuesday January 14, 2014

Brian Kelly introduced Brian VanGorder as his new defensive coordinator at Notre Dame on Tuesday.

The two go back, working together at Grand Valley State from 1989-91, but VanGorder most recently spent 2013 as the linebackers coach with the New York Jets.

VanGorder has experience at many other schools, as well as some NFL teams, but working with Rex Ryan was a different kind of experience. Lessons he hopes to use in South Bend.

“Last year, deciding to go back into the NFL and catch on with Rex has been a real blessing for me,” VanGorder said. “Rex is different than (most) coaches in terms of his approach and how he sees the game and, schematically, how he works and coaches a game. It was invaluable for me, which tied into some core things to open my eyes again to somebody that’s really unique in the business. He’s very natural in who he is. I think he sees the game differently, and he’s created things, from a schematic standpoint, that are problematic for offensive coaches.

“A lot of them don’t like the idea of running their offense against Rex, because it is challenging. It was interesting, because, after all the years as a coordinator, now going back to a linebacker coach to watch Rex install and talk his defense and how my mind was always working in respect to, ‘When I’m a coordinator again, how am I going to take these things Rex is doing and incorporate them into this solid system I’ve been a part of for so many years?’ I was already thinking ahead and planning ahead in respect to the many things I’ll take from the Jets and from Rex. It was a great influence.”

Multiple outlets are reporting that passing game coordinator / outside receivers coach Mike Denbrock will be named offensive coordinator, but Kelly did not address the position. Kelly did say earlier in the day that he will be calling the offensive plays.

As for the defensive coordinator role, Kelly said VanGorder fit all of his criteria.

“The first thing I wanted in this position is a great teacher,” Kelly said. “I think first and foremost, when you're talking about the ability to bring together our defensive players, you need the ability to communicate and to teach, and Brian is one of the very best teachers, if not the best teacher, that I've ever been around, and I go way back with Brian. So first and foremost he's a great teacher. 

“I think the second thing that stands out is 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.  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.  Brian understands that. 

“His background coming with me, starting at Grand Valley State, but before that, being a high school coach makes him uniquely qualified to understand player development, being at the high school ranks, being in Division II at Georgia Southern as a head football coach, being in the SEC, obviously being in the NFL, understanding player development was huge in the selection of the defensive coordinator here.”

Chris Vannini is in his fifth year with and serves as its managing editor. He has previously written for the Detroit Free Press, The Oakland Press, The State News,, 247Sports and SB Nation.  A graduate of Michigan State University, Chris now lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  Be sure to follow @coachingsearch and send emails to