LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Brian VanGorder has enjoyed ample success as a former college football head coach and defensive coordinator at both the collegiate and professional ranks, including three at Power 5 programs.
On Monday, University of Louisville football head coach Bobby Petrino named VanGorder the Cardinals’ defensive coordinator.
“I’ve known Brian for a long time and have an extremely high level of respect for everything he’s accomplished throughout his coaching career,” Petrino said. “With over 30 years of coaching experience, Brian has coordinated defenses in the National Football League, and at the highest level in college football. He’s an outstanding teacher, a great communicator, and has displayed the ability to develop players at every level.
“Brian is former winner of the Broyles Award as the top assistant coach in the country and has achieved success at every level, both professionally and collegiately, which is a testament to his ability as a football coach.”
The former head coach at Georgia Southern (2006) and Wayne State (1992-94), VanGorder brings over 35 years of coaching experience at the collegiate, professional and high school levels to the Cardinals, including 18 as a defensive coordinator. He spent seven seasons in the National Football League and eight combined years as a defensive coordinator at Georgia, Auburn, and Notre Dame.
“I am truly excited about the opportunity to join the football program at the University of Louisville,” VanGorder said. “Coach Petrino has built an impressive program here and I know that the culture that he has created here at Louisville is something that I believe I fit well with and will be comfortable in. I look forward to the challenge ahead here and being a productive part in this successful program.”
VanGorder established himself as one of the best defensive coordinators in the country during his run with the Atlanta Falcons beginning in 2007. In that role from 2008-11, he helped the franchise post four-straight winning seasons, including playoff appearances in 2008, 2010 and 2011.
Helping the Falcons to a 10-6 regular-season record in 2011, VanGorder's defense ranked second in the NFL in red-zone defense, sixth in rushing defense (97.0 yards per game), and 12th in total defense (333.6 yards per game).
In 2010, the Falcons went 13-3 and ranked 10th in the NFL in rushing defense, allowing 105.9 yards per game – the fifth-best total in the NFC. VanGorder's unit ranked in the top five in the NFL in scoring defense (18.0, fifth), turnover differential (+14, third), and interceptions (22, fourth), marking highs for the defense during his tenure.
In 2009, Atlanta's rush defense finished tied for 10th best in the NFL (sixth in the NFC), allowing an average of only 106.8 yards per game. The ranking was 15 spots better than the previous 2008 campaign.
Under VanGorder's leadership, the Falcons' 2009 rush defense only allowed one 100-yard rusher all season and posted a streak of 10-consecutive quarters without a touchdown allowed.
In 2008, VanGorder transformed the Falcons' defense into a unit that finished 11th in the NFL in points allowed at just an average of 20.3 per contest. The team concluded the year at 10-6 and earned a berth in the playoffs.
Not only did VanGorder have remarkable success developing the unit as a whole, he was instrumental in the re-emergence of multiple individuals.
The Jackson, Mich., native helped outside linebacker Calvin Pace return to form as dominant pass rusher in the NFL. The 2003 first-round selection of the Arizona Cardinals totaled 13 sacks over the three seasons before VanGorder’s arrival. Under VanGorder, Pace finished the 2013 season with 10 sacks and reached double digits for the first time in his 11-year NFL career.
Under VanGorder’s tutelage, cornerback Brent Grimes earned his first career Pro Bowl selection in 2010 after posting franchise-high 23 passes defensed, which ranked second in the NFL that season, and tying for the team lead in interceptions (five).
John Abraham earned his fourth career Pro Bowl selection in 2010, as he led all defensive ends in sacks (13.0), adding 43 tackles, four passes defensed, two forced fumbles, and one interception. He also garnered his third selection to the All-Pro team under the guidance of VanGorder (who joined the rest of the Falcons' coaching staff for the 2011 NFL Pro Bowl).
Linebacker Curtis Lofton, with VanGorder’s direction, become a pivotal element on defense. He earned a starting spot in the middle of the defense as a rookie, garnering NFL All-Rookie accolades from Sporting News and Pro Football Weekly, and finished second in the league among all rookies with 108 stops.
VanGorder made a name for himself collegiately during a remarkable run at Georgia, where he spent four seasons. While in Athens, Georgia posted a 42-10 record over that span, won an SEC title, two SEC East Division championships, three bowl games, and three-straight top-10 finishes in the final national polls.
In his final season at Georgia, the Bulldogs went 10-2 and finished the season No. 7 in the nation. Georgia produced a defense that ranked eighth overall and ninth in scoring defense. In 2003, VanGorder's defensive unit finished third nationally in scoring defense, fourth in total defense and sixth in passing defense. For his success, VanGorder was named the Broyles Award winner,
In 2002, Georgia's defense, which led the SEC and finished fourth nationally, allowed only 31 points during the final seven games, propelling the Bulldogs to a Sugar Bowl win over Florida and a No. 3 ranking overall in the polls.
VanGorder's Bulldog defenses included four first-round NFL draft picks (Thomas Davis, Charles Grant, David Pollack, and Johnathan Sullivan), while four players earn All-America recognition (Boss Bailey, Davis, Sean James and Pollack).
VanGorder, who spent the 2017 season as a defensive analyst at Oklahoma State, was the defensive coordinator and inside linebackers coach at Notre Dame from 2014-16, leading the Irish to a pair of bowl games, including a win over LSU in the 2014 Music City Bowl. In 2014, VanGorder inherited a defense that featured 17 first or second-year players and finished 15th in the nation in interceptions with 16.
In those three seasons spearheading the Irish defense, VanGorder tutored linebacker Jaylon Smith, a second-round draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys in 2016. He eclipsed the 100-tackle mark in consecutive seasons.
Prior to his stint at Notre Dame, VanGorder served as the New York Jets linebacker coach during the 2013 season. He mentored the tandem of David Harris (123) and DeMario Davis (107), who combined for 230 tackles that season. The Jets were one of 10 teams in the NFL with multiple linebackers that registered 100 stops.
VanGorder was the head coach at Georgia Southern in 2006, before coaching the linebackers for the NFL Jacksonville Jaguars in 2005 -- finishing sixth in the NFL in total defense that season. He also had college coaching stints as an assistant at Western Illinois (2000), Central Michigan (1998-99), Central Florida (1995-1997), Wayne State (1992-1994), and Grand Valley State (1989-91).
VanGorder graduated from Wayne State in 1992 with bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. He was a four-year letterman for the Tartars (1977-80). He collected 335 career tackles, which ranks seventh in school history, and was inducted into the Wayne State Hall of Fame in 2013.
He has five children: Molloy, Morgan, Mack, Montgomery and Malone.
The VanGorder File
Year School/Franchise Assignment
1989 Grand Valley State Linebackers (11-1, NCAA Division II playoffs)
1990 Grand Valley State Linebackers (10-2, NCAA Division II playoffs)
1991 Grand Valley State Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers (9-3, NCAA Division II playoffs)
1992 Wayne State Head Coach (6-5)
1993 Wayne State Head Coach (6-5)
1994 Wayne State Head Coach
1995 Central Florida Linebackers/Special Teams Coordinator (6-5)
1996 Central Florida Linebackers/Special Teams Coordinator
1997 Central Florida Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator
1998 Central Michigan Defensive Coordinator (6-5)
1999 Central Michigan Defensive Coordinator
2000 Western Illinois Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers (9-3)
2001 Georgia Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers (8-4, Music City Bowl
2002 Georgia Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers (13-1, SEC champion, Sugar Bowl champion)
2003 Georgia Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers (11-3, SEC East champion, Capital One Bowl)
2004 Georgia Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers (10-2, Outback Bowl)
2005 Jacksonville Jaguars Linebackers (12-5, NFL Wild Card)
2006 Georgia Southern Head Coach
2007 Atlanta Falcons Linebackers
2008 Atlanta Falcons Defensive Coordinator (11-6, NFL Wild Card)
2009 Atlanta Falcons Defensive Coordinator (9-7)
2010 Atlanta Falcons Defensive Coordinator (13-4, NFL South champion)
2011 Atlanta Falcons Defensive Coordinator (10-7, NFL Wild Card)
2012 Auburn Defensive Coordinator
2013 New York Jets Linebackers (8-8)
2014 Notre Dame Defensive Coordinator/Inside Linebackers
2015 Notre Dame Defensive Coordinator
2016 Notre Dame Defensive Coordinator
2017 Oklahoma State Defensive Analyst