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January 17, 2007

When Going Gets Tough, Van Gorder Bolts for NFL

The only guy besides Nick Saban who could make Bobby Petrino look like a loyal employee accepted an offer from Petrino to become linebackers coach for the Atlanta Falcons. Brian Van Gorder bailed out of the Georgia Southern job (his fourth in four years, if you are keeping track) after a single, dismal 3-8 season. I was just saying how I thought Brian Van Gorder lacked career management skills, and ironically he seems to have made a decision that may keep him out of college coaching for a good while.

I think Coach Van Gorder is a good man and a good coach. However, I think his career decisions in the last four years have indicated that he is impatient, short-sighted and lacks Strategery. The move from UGA DC to Jacksonville Jags LB coach seemed hasty and lateral at best. I actually expected BVG to be successful at Georgia Southern. But his aborted stint there reminded me that being a successful head coach is about more than just knowing your X's from your O's. It's about winning while appeasing multiple constituencies. Van Gorder proved himself not up to that task. He can be prickly and he was reluctant to embrace the program, its people, or its traditions.

"Would you still be smiling if I went 3-8 and left you coachless after a year in the middle of recruiting season? I mean, you know, rhetorically speaking."

Before he coached his first game in Statesboro Van Gorder scrapped several school traditions, alienating students, alumni, and community supporters he'd later need after his loss to creampuff Central Connecticut set the tone for the year.

When Erk Russell installed the triple option at Georgia Southern, he realized the types of kids he would be able to successfully recruit would be small but fast--and well suited to the triple option scheme. The trouble is, big schools don't want a triple option coach these days (which may be why Navy's Paul Johnson--despite an impressive won/lost record-- hasn't risen any higher), so Van Gorder installed a pro-style offense that would make him a more attractive candidate to larger schools down the road. Inheriting a playoff team from the previous season, Van Gorder's edition was worse in almost every conceivable measurement. His scheme and his personnel were mismatched. I doubt a more mature coach would have attempted something similar.

Making matters worse, Van Gorder scrapped GSU's tradition of arriving at Paulson Stadium in yellow school buses. When Erk created the program, the yellow school buses were the best they could do, and Erk (and every successor until BVG) kept the tradition in observance of the program's humble roots. But, Van Gorder didn't think the yellow school bus was classy enough. He also tinkered with the uniform. A wiser man would have asked and been told by more experienced peers that if you are going to go monkeying with a school's tradition, you'd better win BIG.

[Pictured: Candidate Van Gorder, with resume hanging from his belt]

Unfortunately, Erk Russell's death didn't help matters, in part because of the unflattering comparisons, and in part because Erk wasn't around to offer a vote of confidence to keep the haters at bay. In hindsight, Van Gorder was poorly matched to the job. His upward mobility was transparent, and when the going got tough, he took the first train out of town rather than wait around to get fired next season if he couldn't make the playoffs.

I have to think it will be a long time before anyone offers him a college head coaching position, and not just because of his modest losing winning percentage. He leaves his school in the lurch, having to fill the head coaching position days away from the all-important February signing day deadline. If I were an athletic director, I'd think twice before giving BVG an opportunity to leave me for the next best thing.

Career Consultant &
Statesboro Bureau Chief


The 31st Floor said...

In other news Martinez is staying per Kendall in the Macon Tele.

Anonymous said...

OMFG, have yall seen this yet?! I gotta tell ya, as diehard dawgfans and considering what we and our QB's have endured the past 2 seasons... this is damn near 'spankable' material.

Please Lord, let that boy get good grades, stay healthy, make all his test scores and fulfill his verbal pledge to THA DAWGS a little over a year from now..... "My God, a" HS Junior!

blackertai said...

This is infuriating on more than one level. Being the son of a GaSou grad, a current UGA student and a Falcons fan, I'm torn in so many ways. Leaving UGA for the Jags was insulting enough, but you could understand the move if BVG planned on an NFL coaching career. Moving back to the college ranks after one season to head GaSou was strange, but understandable as the program has a history of success and it doesn't hurt to get a good career record going in I-AA, as Jim Tressel can tell you. Well, after defending his choices to my friends at Southern all season, he's left me in the lurch again by jumping ship after a truly pathetic 3-8 season where BVG held open try-outs for a place-kicker, of all things. Truly, this is a man who needs to figure out what he wants to do with coaching. Continuing to develop as a high quality defensive coordinator would have been infinitely more conducive to getting him a good I-A coaching job (Jesus, we're still talking about Martinez getting offers, and we wanted his ass out the door in October) than all this jumping. I think you're right on when you say he's damaged goods now when it comes to college coaching, as his record of 3-8 isn't attractive, and neither his his propensity to pull a Saban.

I can only hope he fully utilizes his talents at the Falcons, because I AGAIN have a stake in a team he's coaching on.

Dubyadee said...

Agree with most of what you said here, but I don't think it is appropriate to characterize BVG's decision not to continue with the triple option as self serving. We really don't know why he scrapped it. Maybe he just thought that he could not coach it effectively.

Nathan said...

Worst part of VanGorder being a complete douche is that it's probably going to cost GT our best young assistant and recruiting coordinator - Giff Smith. VanGorder couldn't help but stick it to GT one more time.

Astronaut Mike Dexter said...

The thing is, though, when you decide to completely overhaul a team's entire offensive philosophy, you've sort of tacitly agreed to allow the administration to make the decision when you leave. If the switch from, say, the triple-option to a pro-style attack isn't going well and after three years the AD decides you're just not working out, he sends you on your way. But you just don't make the commitment to completely changing the offense -- a task which, as Bill Callahan found out at Nebraska, is at best a three-year job -- and then flake out in the middle of that transition. If you do that, then your name is pretty much mud -- as BVG's is in Statesboro right about now -- and pretty much deserves to be.

My guess is that GSU will make the ability to coach a triple-option attack a main criterion of their new coaching search. But I'll be curious to see how difficult it is for the new coach to take the program back to that after BVG's one-year side trip. For their sake I hope it doesn't take long; I don't have any particular rooting interest with the Eagles (other than the fact that I used to date a girl who went there) but I'd like to see someone carry on the traditions that Erk Russell helped to create, and it was nice having such a powerhouse (in its division) in the state.

Anonymous said...

You're forgetting one thing about BVG: Never Once did this coach accept responsibility for any losses or for his team being unprepared and even being the second most flagged team in the conference. He threw his players under the shiny new buses time and again by telling us THEY were flat, THEY weren't ready. More than any other act of condescension, this one rankles the most.

Anonymous said...

As a graduate of both GSU and UGA, I have never felt that I had to choose one team to root for. I absolutely love the traditions at both universities. I love tailgating on North Campus, but I also enjoy letting my daughter run around behind the scoreboard while I stand by the chain link fence at Paulsen Stadium in Statesboro. My father went to GSU when it was still Georgia Teachers' College back in the 1950s and he was always a big fan. Erk came to GSU when I was just a little kid, but I knew who Erk was. My dad made sure of that.

I remember watching the Hugo Bowl on TV and making several 3 hour trips from southwest Georgia to Statesboro every year. The yellow school buses were classic. And the simple uniforms were just part of GSU. Everyone has probably heard the story about how Burt Reynolds sent new unis after the Hugo Bowl and Erk sent them back because they too fancy! They had a stripe!! Erk didn't even put names on the back of the jerseys so he could sell programs. They needed money that bad!

I don't really have a point with this other than to rant and reminisce. If they can't get Smith from GTU, I hope they go after Hatcher at Valdosta State and I hope the yellow school buses are back next year. And I'll either see you on North Campus or Lanier Drive in about 8 months.

Randal Burgess said...

At first, I thought BVG's moving around was perhaps a strategy for himself and UGA to have a backup in case Richt left for FSU. For BVG to get some pro experience (JAX) made sense. Then, when he bolted after one year to take over the GSU job, I thought, well, maybe this is just another rung on the ladder.

Obviously, I put too much thought into this...way more than BVG puts into his career plans. He really has burned his bridges and the only head-coaching gig he'll have to look forward to is a MAC job somewhere.

I guess the question is...did the GSU administration have more to do with the scrapping of tradition than just BVG and suddenly HE got thrown under the bus...or was it all him?

Anonymous said...

Yada, Yada, Yada...

Bottom line is this: He's a helluva defensive coach and if he wanted to come back to UGA down the road, I'd have no problem with that.

Anyone else out there ever made a bad "career" decision?

Anonymous said...

I don't give a damn what anybody says - I'd take him over Martinez any day!!

Fact is, GSU threw him under the bus & never allowed him to coach effectively.

Can't wait to see him with the Falcons!

Anonymous said...

Admittedly I don't know BVG, but if I was casting the thick neck neighborhood bully with no conscious I would pick BVG. He just looks like a sociopath.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to go ahead and assume that BVG is a relatively intelligent individual. I think what happened is this. After 2004, he didn't recieve any HC offers and so he thought going to the NFL would help that. He left, stayed for a year and decided he liked the college game better. He still wanted to be HC and got an offer from GSU. He took it, changed everything, failed, and realized that "hey, maybe I'm just not a head coach" I think he's a helluva position coach and he was a great DC, but I think maybe he was in over his head as a head coach and knew it. I'm willing to bet that he never takes another HC job again. He could talk football all day long, but he's just not mentally or emotionally ready to handle the rigors of politics behind being a HC and probably never will be, which might be why he's such a good defensive coach--he's hard-nosed, tough as nails, and has no idea how to turn that off.

Unknown said...

All I know is that with VanGorder, Georgia's entire defense could tackle. Once he left, only a few people were able to tackle effectively. As a Falcons fan, I'm glad he's joining the team. The Falcons could use some Tackling 101.

Anonymous said...

I like everyone trying to guess BVG's motivations.

I can see a person going from a DC/OC in college to a pro position coach. Look around at all the NFL position coaches who are at least mentioned for college HC jobs. In fact such a move gives you TWO career tracks.

I was surprised he took the GSU job since I thought he could do a lot better. From what I hear he was taking a lot of heat and no support.

Sometimes traditions need to be changed. The Yellow School Bus thing is cute, but I bet Furman and Appalachian State were making fun of it during recruiting. ASU (from which I have a master's degree) proved that you can win at that level without the triple option (running a spread type attack).

With scholarship limits, talent can trickle to 1-AA so you can get some guys who can run a pro-style offense. Also, it is not like GSU was winning a lot with the triple option the past few years.

If you think another AD is going to care about BVG leaving GSU, then you are nuts. It did not stop Alabama from going after Saban or other places going after Petrino.

Dawgnoxious said...

Skidawg1985: What planet are you on? I think Petrino got an offer because of his awesome won-lost record and Orange Bowl victory. And Saban got an offer because he won a national championship. They are proven winners as head coaches. ADs will overlook at lot of flaws if you are a proven winner. BVG has proven as a head coach he briefly makes a great defensive coordinator.

If this were Sesame Street, BVG would be the "one of these things that is not like the others".

I think GSU's yellow school buses are cool. Other schools laugh at their rivals' traditions all the time. Who cares what other schools think.

BTW, I've seen ASU's "Hot Hot Hot" commercial (google it if you want to laugh out loud). I'd ride 12 hours in a yellow school bus to laugh at an App. State fan for that little transgression.

Anonymous said...

Chris Hatcher is living proof that Brian Van Goober was not up to par on head coaching. Maybe an assistant or position coach but head coach NOT.BVG 3-8, Hatcher 7-4.

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