Officially, his name was Coach Dave Van Halanger.
But around the Georgia football facility, he was known as “Coach Van.”
It’s been said often the past two years that before Georgia reached its current status under Kirby Smart, it had first to be elevated by Mark Richt. Before Attack The Day, there was Finish The Drill, and that identity came from Van Halanger’s arrival in Athens in 2001 where he was strength and conditioning coach until 2010 prior to four more years in a support role.
A head of strength and conditioning is one of the most important hires a coach can make when starting a new role as head coach. It's in the weight room and those grinding offseason workouts where you form a team identity. It’s where you determine you're why. It’s where you build toughness and resiliency.
Coach Van was my dude. He was as positive a person I’ve been around. He was the first person I told my desire to be picked for the Senior Bowl to. He was essentially like “let’s do it, George. You’re gonna make it.” And I did. Rest easy, coach. #GoDawgs https://t.co/TJxaHLUgi8— FOST (@GeorgeFoster72) April 3, 2023
That comes directly from strength and conditioning, and that’s why next to Rodney Garner, one of the most important hires that Mark Richt made was being able to recruit Coach Van from Tallahassee, who in turn had to convince his family to leave Tallahassee and an FSU community they likely had a great love for.
The perception of the Georgia program, fair or not pre-Richt, was that it had talent, but that talent could not close the gap with the Tennessees and Floridas of the SEC at the time.
RIP to Coach Van Halanger. He always spoke about each workout at UGA like it was so easy even though we knew it was gonna be TOUGH!! @TEwracademy @randymac81 @GeorgeFoster72 @CoachG18 @bigpooh96 https://t.co/49SGgKAUaL— Corrie Collier: Ed.S,CAA,CIC (@CVCollier_AD) April 3, 2023
Talent-wise, Georgia should not have beaten Tennessee on that chilly October afternoon in 2001. But the toughness, the will to win from all of those mat drills opened the pay window, and the win, as has been said many times, ‘blew the lid off” for this Georgia program. A year later, Georgia would go to places like Columbia and Tuscaloosa and win games thanks to a toughness mentality, and that came thanks to Van Halanger’s arrival.
Coach Van made everyone feel welcome, even if it did not involve chatter about Georgia’s own program. From the beat writers of top publications and lowly writers from the Red & Black, he’d always find ways to indulge you with a conversation with just about anything - even stories about players and personalities at FSU. Yes, that would even include the occasional Bobby Bowden impression.
I was fortunate to spend a few minutes in that chats during practice from my Red & Black days, and I and anyone else fortunate to spend time with Coach Van was better for it.
I remember one summer semester when I took a magazine writing class that I chose a profile of Coach Van as the topic. The piece never got published since it was a class assignment - but the fact that I sat in Coach Van’s office for 30 minutes for a conversation made it one of the best interviews never to get published.
Dave Van Halanger’s personal faith also impacted how he worked with and treated people. It’s that foundation that played a key part in the journey of Georgia football to what it is today, which is rather fitting.
Go Dawgs, and RIP Coach Van.