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VanGorder a goner
'Surprised' AD announces football coach going to NFL Falcons
011607 PLAYERS MEETING
Georgia Southern football players file into the Parrish Building Tuesday evening moments before being told head coach Brian VanGorder was resigning to accept a position with the NFL Atlanta Falcons. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

WS 20129

Georgia Southern athletic director Sam Baker holds press conference to announce Brian VanGorder has resigned as football coach.
    Georgia Southern athletic director Sam Baker announced the school's sixth head football coach of the modern era, Brian VanGorder, is leaving to become linebackers coach for the NFL's Atlanta Falcons at a press conference Tuesday night at the Bishop Fieldhouse.
    "I am surprised and disappointed," said Baker. "When you hire a coach of national stature, you know at some point you're going to lose him. I have to admit I thought it would be more than a year."
    VanGorder was contacted by the Falcons on Saturday, but Baker said he didn't put much stock in the call, as he and VanGorder were discussing recruiting and the upcoming 2007 season just last week. He was shocked to learn Monday night that VanGorder was indeed leaving Georgia Southern.
    "It caught me and our program off guard," said Baker. "We made so much progress in so many areas. It might not have shown up in the win column, but when you look at the things inside the program like academic progress, improved our APR (Academic Progress Rating) rating with the NCAA, discipline within the team — all these things we feel like we made great progress. I'm disappointed Coach VanGorder won't be here to reap the benefits of these things."
    VanGorder did not come to the conference, but plenty of fans, students, alumni and boosters did. They crowded the newly renovated building on a cold and cloudy night waiting for the news they already knew was confirmed. Baker said he instructed the now former coach not to attend the event.
    "He's an Atlanta Falcon now," said Baker. "And this is Georgia Southern."
    VanGorder could not be reached for comment. Baker speculated that VanGorder's decision to leave was one based on family, but wouldn't comment further on possible reasons VanGorder made his final resolution.
    In just one season at the helm, VanGorder guided the Eagles to a 3-8 season, their first losing campaign since 1996 and just the second in the last 25 years. Baker would not specify a list of candidates at this time, nor if he's looking for a coach to run a specific type of offense or a coach from within the GSU family. Whomever he picks, the new ball coach will become the school's third in as many seasons.
    "We were all shocked," said former Screven County Gamecock Dusty Reddick. "We'd been working hard since we came back in January, working hard in the weight room, had a great banquet with the seniors (Saturday). It was a shock... it really was."
    VanGorder addressed the team at a 6 p.m. meeting on campus at the Parrish Football Center. Reddick said the meeting was "cut and dry" and that he felt most of the team felt disappointed.
    Junior Jayson Foster added to those sentiments.
    "We were all pretty shocked," said Foster. "But we had a senior meeting earlier so that no one would have a let down, keep the weight training going, keep the work ethic going and actually have a good senior season."
    The 47-year-old VanGorder came to Statesboro via the NFL, where he was a linebackers coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Prior to his one-year stint with the Jags, VanGorder spent four seasons as defensive coordinator for the University of Georgia. His only other previous head coaching job was at his alma mater, Wayne State (Mich.), where he guided the Warriors to a 16-17 record over three seasons.
    Baker went out on a limb to bring in VanGorder, firing successful coach Mike Sewak (35-14 in four seasons), following an 8-4 playoff campaign in 2005. At a ballyhooed press conference on Dec. 9, 2005, Baker announced his hire, a decision that was initially welcomed by the Eagle Nation.
    Tuesday, Baker was insistent that the groundwork and foundation was laid, and he expects GSU to be back to a competitive level in 2007.
    "I believe that the next coach that comes in will benefit greatly from those efforts that coach VanGorder and his staff put together," said Baker. "But opportunity knocks, and this time he had to answer it, I guess."
    Part of VanGorder's staff was offensive line coach Scott Fountain, who has already left to take the same position at Iowa State. Parker Wildeman will remain as strength and conditioning coach as announced last week while defensive backs coach Joe Danna will assume VanGorder's duties until a new coach is hired.
    With exactly three weeks until National Signing Day on Feb. 7, a hasty search for VanGorder’s replacement is underway. Baker said he was already contacting candidates early Tuesday while his own phone rang with applicants.
    According to sources close to the situation, one candidate already contacted is Valdosta State head coach Chris Hatcher, a candidate many GSU fans favored during the last coaching search.
    "I'm disappointed for our fans, for the institution, for the team and all the young men who played a role in this season," said Baker. "I got to know Brian VanGorder probably better than anyone, and I valued coach VanGorder and was ready to celebrate with him. I am just disappointed I won't be able to celebrate with him because we're going to be celebrating with someone real soon, and I'm just sorry it's not going to be him.'

    Statesboro Herald staff writer Alex Pellegrino contributed to this story.