Notre Dame football getting 'in-your-face' kind of guy

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND-Practice was a grind and the University of Georgia defense was struggling mightily.

This was more than a decade ago, mind you, but D.J. Shockley — a scout team quarterback for the Georgia football team at the time — remembers it vividly.

“Everything (the scout-team offense) tried (against the No. 1 defense) worked,” Shockley said. “Coach (Brian VanGorder) was going nuts. He’s getting in guys’ faces; chest-bumping; anything to get them pumped up.

“The defense got the message. We got stuffed, everything we tried. Then, (VanGorder) starts running all over the field slapping guys on the back, giving that signature ‘two thumbs up’ that he gives when things are going well.

“That’s the type of guy Notre Dame is getting.”

Shockley knows VanGorder, the newly-minted Irish defensive coordinator, well. Besides being at Georgia when VanGorder was defensive coordinator there (2001-04), Shockley was the seventh-round draft choice of the Atlanta Falcons (in 2006) and was there a couple seasons when VanGorder ran the defense.

“(VanGorder) is better suited to coach college guys; the 18-to-22-year-olds,” Shockley said. “He had to change his demeanor when he went to the NFL.

“It’s a big difference to relate to players 22 to 35; the way you communicate; the tone.”

VanGorder recognized the difference Tuesday during his introduction to the media.

“I remember when I went to Jacksonville (2005),” VanGorder said. “A lot of people wondered: ‘How will Brian do with his personality and style?’

“I had a middle linebacker named Mike Peterson. I was coming from Georgia and he was a Florida Gator. That kind of engaged some interesting conversation in itself.

“He’d been in the league some nine years at the time. I was out among the guys during flex (before practice). I was clapping my hands and, like, ‘Let’s go, we’re gonna do (this).’ He said, ‘Hey rookie, this is a marathon.’ Literally, that’s how the NFL players saw it.”

According to Shockley, fire and brimstone was VanGorder’s method of motivation.

“He’s a fiery, in-your-face kind of guy,” Shockley said. “When I first got to Georgia, I didn’t know what to think. Here’s this guy out of his mind, yelling, spit flying everywhere. He’s so tough on his guys.

“After I got to know him a few years, I recognized what he was doing. He knew the potential his guys had. That stuff wasn’t personal. That was his method to bring that potential out of him. That was the way he brought the best out of those guys.”

Tom Beck, the guy who gave VanGorder his first college job — as an assistant coach at Grand Valley State — thought that personality would be a solid fit at the college level.

“Brian’s an honest, straight-forward guy,” Beck said. “There is no hidden agenda with him. That sort of approach fits better with the 18-to-22-year-olds.

“The enthusiasm of a college campus is a special place. When I was around him (1989-90), the kids loved him.”

“I’ve always likened coaching, especially college kids, to raising kids,” said VanGorder, who has five children. “High standards and expectations bring about intense moments. The players will get that from me when it’s called for. My expectations are that people are dialed in and focused on the task at hand.”

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After the hiring of new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, Notre Dame has now shown an interest in defensive tackle Daniel Cage of Cincinnati. (SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER)