The Coaching Hire That Makes Bowling Green an Early Fade Candidate
Sep 29, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Bowling Green Falcons wide receiver Quintin Morris (80) is tackled but Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets defensive lineman Kyle Cerge-Henderson (54) and Jackets defensive back Christian Campbell (10) during the first quarter at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports
- Bowling Green will begin the 2019 college football season with Brian VanGorder as its new defensive coordinator.
- We analyze why this hire makes Bowling Green a prime fade candidate early in the season.
What happens when you take the worst defense in college football from 2018 (non-UConn division), and hire a defensive coordinator who’s consistently failed with much, much better talent?
I’m not sure. But I’m willing to bet that it doesn’t go particularly well early on, even worse than the market expects (despite most rankings systems putting them in the bottom 10 nationally).
Anyway, this is the situation that Bowling Green finds itself in under new coach Scot Loeffler, who hired Brian VanGorder as his defensive coordinator.
Collin Wilson, the keeper of our power ratings, docked Bowling Green a full two points on every point spread for hiring VanGorder, which almost never happens for a coordinator.
The Falcons are 21.5-point favorites against FCS Morgan State on Thursday night with the total at 49, which I’ve got my eye on.
So Who Is Brian VanGorder?
Here’s his recent body of work as a defensive coordinator. You can’t place all the blame on him, but …
*Fired after four games
VanGorder was tasked with saving Gene Chizik’s Auburn defense in 2012, but the Tigers went 3-9, giving up 150 total points over their final three SEC games.
In 2014 and 2015, he helped lead decent Notre Dame defenses, but the wheels came off in 2016. The Irish started 1-3 and allowed almost 34 points per game before he was fired. They fielded a top 15 defense under Mike Elko in 2017.
Last year, hoo boy, last year. There were so many issues at Louisville, but VanGorder was one of them. His defense gave up 49.8 points per game (!) in conference play en route to a 1-11 against the spread (ATS) season.
VanGorder has been coaching for decades, with successful stops as Georgia’s defensive coordinator in the early 2000s, then some NFL assistant gigs, then some extremely unsuccessful stops in the last few years.
He famously criticized the triple-option when he took over as Georgia Southern’s coach in 2006, which greatly offended Paul Johnson, who exacted revenge last season by scoring 66 points and running for 554 yards with the option when Georgia Tech stomped Louisville.
How Bad Are His Defenses?
Adam McClintock, who grades defensive coordinators using years of historical data, ranks VanGorder 97th of 108 defensive playcallers in the country, and last among anyone with at least five years of play-calling experience.
In McClintock’s talent grades — meaning how the DC performed relative to how talented the team was — VanGorder gets an F-, which is barely even a real grade.
Do a Twitter search for Brian VanGorder and you’ll find plenty of hate, both statistical and anecdotal.
Most interesting tidbit I saw from The Athletic's behind the scenes look at Louisville's opener with Alabama was that Cards' defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder thought Jalen Hurts would start at QB. Ooops.
— rickbozich (@rickbozich) September 3, 2018
Since November 28, 2015, Brian VanGorder led defenses have given up at least 27 points against power 5 teams in 15 straight games. In 11 they gave at least 36. In nine they allowed more than 40. In seven games over 50 points. Two of over 60. And one over 70.
— The Yu & Ian Defender (@ZWMartin) August 13, 2019
For the second straight game a Brian VanGorder led defense has given up over 50 points …. before the end of the third quarter. Not a single Notre Dame fan is shocked by this.
— Bryan Driskell (@BGI_CoachD) November 3, 2018
What Does Bowling Green’s Schedule Look Like?
It starts with what should be a win against middling FCS team Morgan State as a 21.5-point favorite. Should be.
But Morgan State returns 17 starters, including a fairly-talented quarterback, from a 4-7 team that scored two mid-sized upsets last year. Bowling Green ranks 120th in returning production on defense, and is projected to have the worst defense in FBS this season. Worse than UConn!
Bowling Green is switching its offense to a more run-heavy style, a far cry from its air-raid offense of the last few years. So keep an eye on its pace early in the year.
I’ll be keeping an eye on that Notre Dame game, when Irish coach Brian Kelly may be very interested in running up the score on his old defensive coordinator, who he didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye with by the end of their time together.