Atlanta Falcons linebackers coach Brian VanGorder was hired Wednesday as South Carolina's new defensive coordinator and linebackers coach.

After a three-year hiatus, it marks a return to the Southeastern Conference for VanGorder, who had success as Georgia's defensive coordinator from 2001-04.

"I'm really pleased to hire a proven defensive coordinator that has an outstanding record working in the SEC," Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said. "Brian will personally coach the linebackers, but will actually coach all of the defensive players as we strive to improve our Gamecock defense."

This past season, under Tyrone Nix, USC finished 56th in the country in total defense (378.9 yards a game) but 109th in rush defense (209.3 yards a game).

Nix left Dec. 11 to take the defensive coordinator job at Ole Miss.

That set Spurrier in motion to find his successor.

Spurrier first contacted longtime Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster, who said he was flattered by a generous offer from Spurrier. Foster, interested in soon becoming a head coach, ultimately decided to stay put.

Then, Spurrier seemed to turn toward a short list of candidates, including VanGorder, Mississippi State defensive coordinator and former Citadel coach Ellis Johnson and Arkansas defensive coordinator and former Clemson defensive coordinator Reggie Herring.

VanGorder expressed immediate interest in the position because of his desire to return to the SEC and due to the fact that his boss, Falcons head coach Bobby Petrino, had bolted to Arkansas.

VanGorder and Spurrier spoke Tuesday and a deal was soon in place.

The 48-year-old VanGorder will join the USC staff in January, after the Falcons' final pair of games. Also joining the staff at the first of the year will be new special teams coordinator Ray Rychleski, hired Tuesday by Spurrier.

With 10 assistants for nine spots, USC confirmed Wednesday that Fred Chatham will not be retained. Chatham, finishing up his second year under Spurrier, coached tight ends and was the co-special teams coordinator this past season.

At Georgia, six of VanGorder's players were selected in the first two rounds of the NFL draft.

During his four years helping coach UGA, the Bulldogs went 42-10, won an SEC title, two SEC East titles, three consecutive bowl games and finished in the top 10 three straight times.

In 2004, the 10-2 Bulldogs ended up seventh and VanGorder's defense finished in the top 10 in scoring defense.

The previous year, VanGorder was named the national assistant coach of the year after his defense finished third in scoring defense, fourth in total defense and sixth in passing defense.

"I'm very excited to join the Gamecock staff and work with coach Spurrier," said VanGorder, a Michigan native. "I look forward to this opportunity to learn and be a big part of helping South Carolina get better. I believe there is tremendous potential at South Carolina. I'm obviously familiar with the SEC, which is the best college league in America and where you compete against the best each week. I'm looking forward to the challenge."

Following his four years at Georgia, VanGorder was the Jacksonville Jaguars linebackers coach in 2005. The following season, he took over as the head coach at Georgia Southern. He left after the year to join Petrino's staff in Atlanta.

Reach Travis Haney at thaney@postandcourier.com.