“He was saying he was already here, and they had called my name to come to the podium and I was a no-show,” Richt said. “He wanted to know how our hall of fame sports information director (Claude Felton) could possibly mess it up this morning.
“He was busting chops a little bit.”
In fact, Richt arrived in Macon about 20 minutes before VanGorder, and, according to VanGorder, it was the first time the pair has been under the same roof as professional equals. VanGorder left Georgia in 2004, after four years as the Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator, for what would be a one-year stint as an NFL assistant. The pair barely got to talk in Macon because of media responsibilities, but there already have been plenty of conversations.
“We’ve had a couple long discussions about starting up a program,” Richt said. “He certainly lived through us doing it at Georgia, and he had some memories of that, but he kind of wanted to talk about it from a head coach’s point of view. We’re friends. We’ve always been friends, and we trust each other’s opinion on things.”
The responsibilities of a head coach “kind of can blindside you if you don’t stay on top of it,” VanGorder said. “Every couple weeks I hit him with something, and he’s very patient and very informative about some of those things.”
The one thing VanGorder, who was a head coach for three years at Wayne State, didn’t discuss with Richt was becoming the Eagles’ fifth head coach. His professional team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, was preparing to play the Indianapolis Colts at the time, and he didn’t want to take a chance that anyone would hear about the move.
“Nobody other than my wife and my children and Sam Baker, the president of Georgia Southern, really knew what was going on,” he said.
Brian VanGorder had doubts, he acknowledged, about the Southern job. Another year or two as an NFL assistant coach could have put him in line for a Division I-A job, but, in the end, his frustration with the hiring practices of major college presidents and athletic directors convinced him to take the job.
“The bottom line is I just decided here’s a great opportunity at a place in the Southeast that has a great football tradition, great state to recruit out of, and they want me,” he said. “So, rather than rely on the man, the man being athletic directors and presidents, who I have dealt with over the last five years, (I took the job). Why put it in their hands? I don’t know what credentials they are looking for. I mean, what are they looking for? This is the opportunity I’ve been given, and I’m excited about it.”
Had VanGorder called prior to accepting the job, he would have gotten Richt’s blessing, Georgia’s coach said.
“I think he’s a great fit for that job,” Richt said. Georgia Southern “had success with a former defensive coordinator at Georgia. They won, and they won big. I think it’s exactly what they need.”
VanGorder is the first of Richt’s former assistants to land a head coaching job. That number is sure to grow if the Bulldogs keep winning at their current rate, but Richt was unwilling Wednesday to think about what kind of legacy of assistant coaches he might have one day.
“I haven’t been around long enough to have a (coaching) tree yet,” he said, “maybe one day.”