SOUTH BEND, Ind. — It's been 23 years since Brian Kelly and Brian VanGorder coached together, but both believe they'll rekindle the chemistry they formed while at Grand Valley State.
VanGorder coached three years at Grand Valley State, serving as the program's defensive coordinator and linebackers coach from 1989-1991. Kelly was already there, and was an assistant coach in 1989 and 1990 before a promotion to head coach in 1991.
"We worked really well together," VanGorder said. "I think that our players reflected that as you watched them play. And I just think that we have personalities that worked well together and anticipate that that's remained the same, and we'll enjoy that same kind of relationship here at Notre Dame."
The careers of both coaches didn't take off until well after that initial meeting. VanGorder got his big break as Georgia's defensive coordinator from 2001-2004, and eventually moved on to become the Atlanta Falcons' defensive coordinator from 2008-2011. Kelly quickly ascended the coaching ladder after leaving Grand Valley State, though it's been a more recent rise than that of VanGorder.
As both coaches began to take on greater, more prominent roles, staying in contact became tough — but VanGorder said they never fell out of contact.
"We've never hesitated to pick up the phone, whether it's a question about something in football or it was a job question and consideration," VanGorder said. "So I think we've always maintained a real healthy respect for one another and certainly a desire to talk over any issues in our careers relative to being colleagues."
The circumstances for a reunion weren't right, though, until Bob Diaco left to take the head coaching job at UConn in December. VanGorder signed on as the defensive coordinator at Auburn in 2012, though Gene Chizik was fired after that season — leaving VanGorder searching for another job. He coached linebackers with the New York Jets last fall, putting himself in a good position for a promotion.
And Kelly's familiarity with him certainly helped his case at Notre Dame.
"Brian is one of the very best teachers, if not the best teacher, that I've ever been around," Kelly said, "and I go way back with Brian."