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VanGorder speaks about new position

    FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — The Atlanta Falcons’ practice headquarters is located only about an hour from Athens, the home of the University of Georgia.
    Brian VanGorder opted for a much longer route.
    VanGorder, the Falcons’ linebackers coach under new head coach Bobby Petrino, is with his fourth team in four years. VanGorder moved from Athens to the Jacksonville Jaguars to Georgia Southern and, finally, to the Falcons.
    ‘‘That certainly wasn’t the master plan,’’ VanGorder said Thursday at the end of the Falcons’ three-day mini-camp for rookies.
    From 2001-04, VanGorder was the highly successful defensive coordinator for coach Mark Richt at Georgia, where he won the 2003 Frank Broyles Award as the nation’s top college assistant.
    After the 2004 season, VanGorder left Georgia to become linebackers coach for the Jaguars.
    A surprise came a year later when VanGorder was named the head coach at Georgia Southern, but the most unexpected move of all came in January when he left the Eagles to join Petrino’s staff.
    Georgia Southern was only 3-8 under VanGorder for its first losing season since 1996.
    The Georgia Southern fans weren’t happy with a losing season, and VanGorder’s abrupt departure only added to the hurt feelings in Statesboro.
    ‘‘While I regret what took place at Georgia Southern, it still was a really outstanding experience and especially from within,’’ VanGorder said.
    ‘‘As I’ve always said the coaches and the players within that program last year know exactly what we did within that situation, and I think every single one of them respect it greatly and value their time within that year as one that will be remembered hopefully throughout their lives.’’
    Some Georgia Southern fans didn’t like changes brought by VanGorder, but he says there were no surprises. He said those who hired him knew his plans for the team, including scrapping the option offense.
    ‘‘I think that was Georgia Southern’s decision,’’ he said. ‘‘I was very upfront going into the job about what we would do philosophically and what we would do schematically and what we would do from an academic and disciplinary area and what we would do from a spiritual area. We were very successful in all those areas.’’
    VanGorder’s link to the Falcons was Phil Emery, his college roommate at Wayne State who is Atlanta’s director of college scouting.
    After Petrino was hired, Emery put in a call to VanGorder.
    ‘‘He wondered if I would be interested in coming back to the NFL,’’ VanGorder said, adding he called back to say yes ‘‘after some long thought.’’
    Soon there was a meeting with Petrino, who remembered VanGorder’s defensive game plans from Petrino’s 2002 season as offensive coordinator at Auburn.
    ‘‘You feel like you know a guy real well when you sit there and study all of his games,’’ Petrino said Thursday. ‘‘They were a team that in the summertime we spent a lot of time looking at when I was at Auburn.
    ‘‘You feel like here’s a team that’s real well-coached. They know what they’re doing. Look how hard those guys play. So I had tremendous amount of respect for Brian and then kind of watched him when he went to Jacksonville.’’
    VanGorder’s decision to return to the NFL was not a surprise to his good friend on the Georgia staff, Willie Martinez, who also was his successor as the Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator.
    ‘‘If the opportunity is there, I think we’re all a little in the same mold, we all want to coach at the highest level in the profession,’’ said Martinez, who visited Thursday’s practice.
    Said VanGorder of his move back so close to Athens: ‘‘It’s been a big circle.’’
    ‘‘It’s been a time of perseverance, of adjustment,’’ VanGorder said. ‘‘Certainly my biggest concern through it all has been my family. I’m real proud of them and how they handled it all through the job situation.’’
    VanGorder said the jumps between college and NFL jobs have not been difficult as a coach.
    ‘‘For me, coaching football is coaching football,’’ he said. ‘‘When you get on the grass, you’re doing what you’ve done for a long time. It’s obviously easier for me within my job than it is for my family to make adjustments with different schools and such.’’
    Falcons rookie linebacker Tony Taylor, recruited to Georgia by VanGorder, says his old college coach hasn’t changed.
    ‘‘I think he’s the same,’’ Taylor said. ‘‘He’s out here trying to get everybody to be the best they can be.’’
    VanGorder said he already is comfortable working with Petrino.
    ‘‘It’s been real easy for me and Coach Petrino,’’ he said. ‘‘He’s a very good football man and very detailed about the business of football. He has expectations and standards that I think are exactly what I look for and expect myself.’’
Notes: The team’s first practice in training camp at Flowery Branch is set for July 27. ... The rookies and assistant coaches were on the field for about an hour with 50 members of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Atlanta and Gainesville for a football clinic after Thursday’s practice.

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