SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — New Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder said Tuesday he won't decide on what type of defensive scheme he plans to run until he has time to evaluate the talent the Fighting Irish have.
"My experience tells me to always do a good job evaluating the current talent, the current players and then make decisions that best play to their strengths. So that's the process that we'll be in right now," the veteran coach said at a news conference Tuesday.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly officially announced Monday that VanGorder would be his defensive coordinator, although it was widely reported last month. He replaces Bob Diaco, who left to become head coach at Connecticut. Notre Dame ran a 3-4 defense under Diaco, but was in a 4-3 scheme about half the time.
Two years ago when he was introduced as the defensive coordinator at Auburn, VanGorder described himself as a "4-3 guy." But Kelly, who didn't take any questions at the news conference, has said before the hire that he was looking for a coordinator who would keep the Irish in a base 3-4 defense that can switch into a 4-3.
VanGorder spent the past year as linebacker coach for the New York Jets, who run a base 3-4 formation but use some unorthodox schemes to try to pressure the quarterback. VanGorder said as he listened this past season to Jets coach Rex Ryan talk about his defensive schemes he would think about how they would fit into his system.
"My mind was always working in respects to, 'OK, when I'm a coordinator again, how am I going to take these things that Rex is doing that I really like and incorporate them into the solid system that I've been a part of for so many years,'" he said.
Kelly said he was looking for a defensive coordinator who was a great teacher, saying VanGorder's experience as a high school, college and NFL coach helps him understand the need for player development.
"They're not ready-made. The players we bring here to Notre Dame, we have to develop them. Not just on the football field, but off the football field as well," Kelly said. "Brian understands that."
Kelly also said he wanted to hire someone he enjoyed being around. VanGorder was the linebackers coach at Grand Valley State in 1989-90 when Kelly was defensive coordinator. Then when Kelly became head coach in 1990 he promoted VanGorder to defensive coordinator. VanGorder won the Frank Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant coach at Georgia in 2003. But VanGorder said he really learned about defense working under then-Jacksonville Jaguar coach Jack Del Rio for a season in 2005 and for three seasons under Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith.
"They opened the door to so much more respective to the game and the intellectual part of the game. Over the last seven, eight years, the growth in that area I think was a good combination for my personality and probably the most important years for me professionally," he said.
As for what he's seen so far on what he's seen from the Irish on film, VanGorder said he's been pleased.
"I like our players' intensity," he said. "You can see their body language and enthusiasm, they're all in. That's the most important thing as you build scheme and all those things moving forward."