AUBURN - As Auburn defensive players walked into the meeting room last February to hear from new coordinator Brian VanGorder for the first time, they weren't sure what to expect. When they walked out, they knew exactly what to expect. VanGorder had told them. Clearly. Forcefully.
Auburn defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder
"He was a hard guy, I could tell," senior linebacker Daren Bates says. "He was going to earn his respect and get everything out of us when we hit the field and we were in the film room. I could tell he was a high-character guy who wanted the best for all of us."
Senior cornerback T'Sharvan Bell says VanGorder made it clear he cared, but also made it clear there was new boss in town.
"He laid down the ground rules," Bell says. "He wasn't going to compromise with anybody. He said that we had been used to compromising and he wasn't going to do that. He said it was going to be his way or no way. That kind of lit up everybody's eyes. It was like 'This guy is for real.'
"That's what we need. We need somebody straightforward who is going to tell you the truth. He says 'If you want to know the truth about what I think about you, come in my office and I'll tell you.'"
That honesty, Bell says, has value that goes well beyond football.
"That's what we need as young men," Bell says. "A lot of guys might not have father figures in their lives, somebody to tell us 'This is how it is and this is the way it's going to be and this is what you need to do.' We need that, and I think everybody has taken well to it."
VanGorder arrived at Auburn on Feb. 16 after five seasons, four as defensive coordinator, with the Atlanta Falcons. He brought a glittering resume that included winning the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant coach when he was at the University of Georgia. He brought an NFL defensive scheme with him.
Not a discouraging word can be heard from Auburn players as they prepare to put VanGorder's defense on display against Clemson at the Georgia Dome on Sept. 1. They have thoroughly bought in.
VanGorder went to work in spring practice on teaching his defense to his players. And when preseason camp started, he turned up the heat.
"He's a smart guy," Bates says. "He knows football. He's probably the smartest coach I've ever been around, football or basketball. Seeing the type guy he is and the respect he gives us and the players give him."
VanGorder's intensity on the practice field has quickly become legendary. His booming voice is as much a part of Auburn practices as the blowing of coaches' whistles.
"Those freshmen, their eyes will get big and they'll start jumping around," Bell says with a laugh. "He tells you all the time 'I'm not mad at the player. I'm just mad at the action.'"