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Falcons' defensive coordinator VanGorder takes same position at Auburn

AUBURN, Ala. — Brian VanGorder, who has served as the defensive coordinator with the Atlanta Falcons the past four seasons, has been named the defensive coordinator at Auburn, Tigers head coach Gene Chizik announced Monday.

Familiar to the Southeastern Conference, VanGorder was the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Georgia from 2001-04, where he was named the 2003 Broyles Award winner as the nation’s top assistant coach. During his tenure in Athens, Georgia won one SEC title, two SEC East Division championships, captured three Bowl games and ended up with three straight top 10 finishes in the final national polls.

During VanGorder’s stint with the Falcons, the organization achieved unprecedented heights, posting four-consecutive winning seasons, a franchise first, including playoff appearances in 2008, 2010 and 2011. His defenses consistently showed marked improvements along the way.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for me and my family at this point in my career, both professionally and personally, to become the defensive coordinator at Auburn,” VanGorder said. “I’m looking forward to working at a school with the success and tradition of Auburn, and for a coach like Gene Chizik, who has led the program to a national championship. I’m very appreciative to the Atlanta Falcons and Coach Mike Smith for the experience of the last four years. It’s a great organization and will have continued success in the future.”

Helping the Falcons to a 10-6 regular season record in 2011, VanGorder’s defense finished the regular season second in the NFL in red zone defense, sixth in rushing defense (97.0 ypg), and 12th in total defense (333.6 ypg).

“I’m very excited to have a coach like Brian VanGorder join our staff at Auburn. From the beginning of this process, I had one person in mind, and that was Brian,” Chizik said. “He has achieved success at every level, both professionally and collegiately, which is a testament to his ability as a coach. He has been one of the best defensive coordinators in the NFL, has won a Broyles Award at the college level, and understands what it takes to succeed in the Southeastern Conference. We’re pleased to welcome Brian and his family to Auburn.”

In 2010, the Falcons defense finished 10th in the NFL in rushing defense allowing 105.9 yards per game, which ranked fifth in the NFC. The run defense was not the only part of the defense that showed improvement in 2010, VanGorder’s defense ranked in the the top five in the NFL in scoring defense (18.0, 5th), turnover differential (+14, 3rd) and interceptions (22, 4th), marking highs for VanGorder’s defense during his tenure.

With the leadership of VanGorder, cornerback Brent Grimes earned his first career Pro Bowl selection in 2010 after posting a single-season franchise-high 23 passes defensed, and tying for the team lead in interceptions (five), while adding 82 tackles. His 23 pass breakups ranked second in the NFL in 2010.

John Abraham earned his fourth career Pro Bowl selection in 2010 as he led all defensive ends in sacks (13.0), and added 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.

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 from the second quarter of Week 15 to the fourth quarter of Week 17.

In 2008, VanGorder started the retooling process of transforming the Falcons defense into a unit that plays with intensity, passion, aggression and toughness. His troops responded by making steady improvements along the way and proved downright stingy when it came to surrendering points. The Falcons, under VanGorder’s guidance, finished 11th in the NFL in points allowed at just an average of 20.3 per contest.

With VanGorder’s direction, linebacker Curtis Lofton played a pivotal role in developing the defense. He earned a starting spot in the middle of the defense as a rookie, garnering NFL All-Rookie accolades by Sporting News and Pro Football Weekly, and finished second in the entire league among all rookies (according to Stats, Inc.) with 108 stops.

Prior to his arrival with the Falcons, VanGorder was as the head coach at Georgia Southern in 2006. VanGorder spent the 2005 season coaching the linebackers for the Jacksonville Jaguars under Falcons Head Coach Mike Smith. Jacksonville ranked sixth in the NFL in total defense that season with VanGorder’s help.

At Georgia, the Bulldogs posted a 42-10 record over his four seasons. In his last season at Georgia in 2004, the 10-2 Bulldogs and seventh ranked team in the nation produced a defense that ranked eighth overall and ninth in scoring defense. VanGorder’s 2003 defensive unit finished third nationally in scoring defense, fourth in total defense, and sixth in passing defense.

In 2002, UGA’s stout defense allowed only 31 points during the final seven games, propelling the Bulldogs to a Sugar Bowl win over Florida State (26-13) and a number three ranking overall in the polls. His strong defense also led the SEC in scoring defense and finished fourth nationally.

VanGorder also had coaching stints at Western Illinois (2000), Central Michigan (1998-99), the University of Central Florida (1995-1997), Wayne State (1992-1994) and Grand Valley State (1989-91).

VanGorder, 52, was born in Jackson, Michigan. He and his wife, Pollie, have five children: Molloy, Morgan, Mack, Montgomery and Malone.