Notre Dame Football: Is Brian Van Gorder A Good Choice As Defensive Coordinator?

By Jeff Merritt
Josh D. Weiss-USA TODAY Sports

The 2013 Notre Dame football season is now over and the Fighting Irish finished with a 9-4 record. As Brian Kelly indicated, it was a good season, but not great. For the Irish faithful, the season was a huge disappointment.

There were a number of issues that plagued the Irish this season. Playing with a backup quarterback was one issue. The special teams play was dismal again. The most glaring issue and perhaps the biggest surprise of the college football season was the inconsistent play of the defense.

There are some obvious reasons for the disappointing performance of the Irish defense. They were plagued by a number of injuries. They lost some key personnel to graduation, and a leader never emerged during the season. Many Irish fans also believed that a change was needed at the coordinator position.

With the loss of Bob Diaco to the University of Connecticut and with the hiring of Brian Van Gorder, there is an opportunity in South Bend for the defense to rise again to the heights it experienced two seasons ago.

Van Gorder brings the level of experience Kelly was looking for in a defensive coordinator. He has a great deal of college experience, including a very successful stint as the defensive coordinator at the University of Georgia where he fielded some of the finest defensive units in the land for three years consecutively.

He also has professional coaching experience, most recently with the New York Jets. He is very familiar with a base 3-4 defense that Kelly wants to run. He has worked with both a 3-4 and 4-3, and reports are that he is a very good teacher of the game. Van Gorder was most recently coaching with the Jets as a linebacker coach and was part of one of the top defensive staffs in the NFL. Being connected in the NFL can be a great selling point to young recruits.

As far as recruiting is concerned, he is well connected in Florida where he coached high school football and has experience recruiting in SEC country. Having coached in the SEC, he knows the type of athlete he needs to draw to the university to compete with SEC-type programs. Finally, Van Gorder has coached special teams as well. Although it is not likely that he will coach special teams, it is likely that he will provide valuable input into making that phase of the game much stronger.

Although this hire surprised many and some are concerned that Kelly relies too much on his Grand Valley ties when hiring coaches, the hire of Van Gorder seems to be a very good one. He seems to meet all the criteria Kelly had laid out at the beginning of his coaching search, but does he have what it takes to raise the defenses’ level of performance? Only time will tell.

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