Brian VanGorder began coaching 38 years ago as an assistant coach at a high school in West Bloomfield Township in Michigan.
Since then, the current Bowling Green State University defense coordinator became a dominant prep coach in Florida and has spent every season since 2007 working with defenses in the National Football League or a Power 5 school.
So for the defensive mastermind, the concept is simple.
“The mission statements are always easy in football, the methods are difficult,” VanGorder said. “If you don’t understand the methods, then the mission is never going to be accomplished.
The ultimate mission for VanGorder’s unit is to be one of the best defenses in the country.
They’re using camp to work toward that goal.
“Underneath that mission, becoming what I hope we will some day, a top defense in the country. We’re far from that,” VanGorder added.
Among the aspects that the defensive unit has worked on through a pair of practices in shorts is alignments.
While it is a basic learning principle, the defense features a new staff, a host of new players and a new playbook with brand new concepts.
“I think we’re getting more accustomed to the fast pace of our offense. Their tempo is just unmatched and it’s just getting us in a lot better shape,” redshirt-senior linebacker Brandon Perce said. “We’re getting our assignments down, still struggling a little bit but I can feel we got a lot better even today from yesterday.”
The details are as important as anything, when building the foundation.
“There’s so many details of what we do, getting the coaches caught up on what we do and translating that to the players. It’s a process just like player development,” VanGorder said. “Fortunately I’ve got really good guys, and they’re smart and have learned quickly.”
VanGorder has noticed his group grasping the concepts quickly, but his unit credits him with the success.
The intense veteran coach has brought more than schematics to Bowling Green.
“He’s brought a fire to the program. He gets us motivated on a daily basis, he’s a really good coach. He’s an honest coach,” senior defensive lineman Nico Lautanen said. “He’s very straightforward with you, tells you what you need to work on.”
Perce echoed Lautanen’s thoughts.
“To be honest, a spark. He’s a real coach. He tells it how it is, that’s what guys need to hear to get better,” he said. “Because too many guys have been soft lately, and we’re getting it right. We’re getting a good culture here … and toughness.”
VanGorder isn’t doing anything different.
“Obviously I’ve been doing it a long time, I know myself well. I know in coaching you have to be who you are, so I’m going to be who I am. I’m glad they feel that way, that’s a good thing,” VanGorder said. “We’re trying to build good men, and that equals good players, too.”
Despite the spark that VanGorder has provided and a pair of productive practices to open training camp, the Falcons understand where they’re at.
The vision is great, but VanGorder takes over a unit that was one of just six Division I schools to allow an average of 40 points per game or more, while being one of the worst in forcing turnovers.
The defense will feature plenty of youth and a host of new starters, so what has VanGorder noticed that needs more attention?
“I could stand here for an hour. We’ve got a lot to do. It’s two days, but we have to have a sense of urgency about everything that we do,” he said. “We have to make sure we improve daily.”