Whatever some Falcons fans think of the job he did there — when you lose 24-2, and the defense scored all of your points, is it the defense’s fault? — he’s done it well in college. He’s done it well in the SEC.
The man even came to Auburn with a persona, flashing the Magnum mustache, so start checking boxes on a home-run hire for Auburn head coach Gene Chizik.
Just don’t check the box next to “miracle worker.” That much became clear in Auburn’s season-opening 26-19 loss to Clemson on Saturday.
The defense that gave up 624 yards to Clemson a year ago gave up 528 Saturday.
The defense that couldn’t tackle or stop anyone on third down a year ago didn’t look much better that way, which partly explains how it stayed on the field for 87 plays.
With numbers like that, it’s a tribute to coaching and stamina that Auburn still managed to lead in the fourth quarter and came within a touchdown of the nation’s then-No. 14 team.
But it’s a long season, and all of those teams than hung 40ish points on Auburn in 2011 lie ahead. That starts Saturday at Mississippi State, which came inches short of 40 points at Auburn a year ago.
If Auburn’s defense doesn’t get better, then Auburn’s results won’t get better.
After seeing many of the same players struggle in many of the same ways, one wonders how much better even VanGorder can make Auburn’s defense in one season.
Ends Corey Lemonier and Dee Ford are good. Everyone knew that.
They’re pass-rushing specialists, which works great when a defense forces obvious passing situations. Clemson running back Andre Ellington accounted for 228 of Clemson’s 320 rushing yards, and he averaged 9.1 a carry.
A year of physical maturity didn’t make a year’s difference in game one. The middle of the defensive line got pushed, not push.
There’s also still a problem at linebacker. Auburn has SEC linebackers, but they play defensive end.
Remember the secondary that let Clemson complete pass after pass between the linebackers and back line a year ago? They did it again Saturday.
Auburn clearly needed change after three years of mediocre-or-worse defense. There’s every reason to believe VanGorder can get it done in the SEC.
Between VanGorder and Chizik, coordinator for Auburn’s unbeaten team of 2004 and Texas’ national-championship team in 2005, the Tigers have the brain trust for a good defense.
They still have most of the same players from a year ago, however, and those players are learning a new way under a new boss.
It’s early in VanGorder’s first season. Auburn’s defense has lots of time to show improvement, but it came out of game one showing much of the same.
The Tigers also came out of game one with VanGorder vowing that no position is settled. This comes after he spent months settling them and 60 minutes absorbing a reality check.
Even he admitted surprise at how poorly the Tigers tackled.
VanGorder is good, but Auburn needed a miracle worker for a dramatic turnaround in year one.
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.