'Dogs lose defensive coordinator

Published: Tuesday, January 11, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 11, 2005 at 12:04 a.m.
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Georgia defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder answers questions during a news conference in Athens, Ga., Monday about his decision to leave the Georgia football team to become linebackers coach with the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Associated Press
ATLANTA - Georgia's coaching staff took a major blow when defensive guru Brian VanGorder left Monday to become linebackers coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
VanGorder, a little-known assistant when he was hired by Bulldogs coach Mark Richt in 2001, quickly transformed Georgia into one of the top defenses in the country.
In 2003, VanGorder won the Frank Broyles Award as the nation's top college assistant.
"I don't like to lose good people," coach Mark Richt said. "We were willing to put together whatever it took to keep him. It didn't come down to money. It came down to a desire he had."
Secondary coach Willie Martinez was promoted to the additional job of defensive coordinator. VanGorder worked with the linebackers, so the Bulldogs will hire a new assistant at that position.
Richt lost another member of his staff as well. Running backs coach Ken Rucker will take over the same job at Texas, apparently swayed by the prospect of improving his retirement package in that state. He previously coached at Baylor and Texas A&M.
"I'm sorry when guys go, especially when it's good men like they are," said Richt, whose team went 10-2, won the Outback Bowl and finished No. 7 in The Associated Press rankings. "But our goals don't change. We still want to win the SEC championship and the national championship."
VanGorder's departure will cause plenty of dismay in the Bulldog Nation. While Richt came to Georgia with the reputation as an offensive mastermind, defense has been the hallmark of his regime.
"In my opinion and my family's opinion, this is a promotion," VanGorder said. "I know there will be a lot of questions about being the defensive coordinator at Georgia and taking a position-coaching job at Jacksonville. But I view this as something that will open up a lot of opportunities in regards to becoming a better football coach and learning another game."
The Jaguars hired VanGorder to replace Mike Haluchak, who was let go after the season along with two other Jacksonville assistants.
VanGorder said he was contacted by the Jaguars, met with head coach Jack Del Rio on Thursday, was offered the job the following day and decided over the weekend to accept.
"I did not go out and seek employment with Jacksonville or any other organization," VanGorder said. "Obviously, it was a very difficult decision. I love Georgia. I consider myself a Georgia man. There's no place I've been that has more of my heart or represents my work more than this place."
Under VanGorder, the Bulldogs ranked among the nation's best in fewest points allowed each of the last three years, placing ninth at 16.6 per game in the season that ended fewer than two weeks ago.
Georgia allowed only 15.1 points while winning the Southeastern Conference championship in 2002. The following season, the Bulldogs gave up just 14.5 points - ranking second nationally - and claimed a share of the SEC East title.
Richt said the decision to promote Martinez to coordinator was an easy one. He worked with VanGorder at both Central Florida and Central Michigan and nearly got Georgia's top job on defense in 2001, when Richt was putting together his staff.
"It just as easily could have been him four years ago," Richt said. "Now, it's his time."
Martinez said he'll keep the same defensive scheme and expects a smooth transition. Rodney Garner and Jon Fabris, who work with the defensive line, are still on the staff.
"The players aren't going to hear anything different," Martinez said. "It's just going to be a different guy in the meeting room and in front of the huddle saying it to them."
The loss of two assistant coaches is new to Richt, who basically has held the same staff together since he took over at Georgia four years ago. Rucker was the only assistant who wasn't there at the beginning, taking over after Tony Pierce resigned during the 2002 season.
VanGorder, 45, was considered a likely candidate for a college head coaching job, but apparently never received a serious overture during his tenure at Georgia.
A Michigan native, he served as head coach at Wayne State, his alma mater, from 1995-97. He was the defensive coordinator at Central Florida, Central Michigan and Western Illinois before joining the Bulldogs.
VanGorder believes that having the NFL on his resume will improve his chances of becoming a college head coach.
"We can all see the landscape has changed," he said, noting that coaches such as Southern Cal's Pete Carroll have returned to college from the pros and had great success. "There's a feeling that the combo of NFL and college experience is one that may be beneficial."

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