10 Things: UGA’s Rodney Garner ‘blessed’ to be part of SEC for 28 years

Big man on campus: Rodney Garner -- aka 'Coach G' -- has been defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator at Georgia since 1998, and assistant head coach since 2005. (AJC photo)

Big man on campus: Rodney Garner -- aka 'Coach G' -- has been defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator at Georgia since 1998, and assistant head coach since 2005. (AJC photo)

Ten Things You Should Know About . . .

RODNEY GARNER

Just back from vacation. Following is the second installment in a series profiling all of Georgia’s assistant football coaches. The first one was on defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and ran in print two weeks ago. I’ve now posted it HERE as a blog so you may comment on it if you wish. They will be published weekly between now and preseason camp.

ATHENS – Asked to reflect on his coaching career, Rodney Garner is taken aback when he starts to count up the years and the stops along the way. Georgia’s assistant head coach, recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach, Garner is entering his 15th season with the Bulldogs, 23rd as a full-time coach and 28th as an associate of the Southeastern Conference.

“That within itself is a true blessing,” said Garner, who will turn 46 on June 30th. “I’ve been blessed to work at some really good institutions. I’ve been blessed to work for five really good head coaches. Three of them are currently in the hall of fame and I’m sure Mark [Richt] will be one day. So not many people can say that. I feel blessed. I’m humbled by the blessings God has bestowed on me.”

Garner sat down for an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently as part of a summer series profiling Georgia’s nine assistant football coaches. Here’s 10 things you should know about Garner.

1. He grew up poor ‘but didn’t know it’

Garner, the son of Melva and the late Earl Garner, grew up in Leeds, Ala., about 20 miles east of Birmingham and not far from Interstate 20. Though that’s not that far from a major city, Garner describes his as a “country” upbringing.

“We were poor. But the thing about it, the way we grew up, I really didn’t realize we were poor,” Garner said. “Everybody around us lived the same. It took me going to college to realize we might have been poor.”

Garner said he and his cousins were raised primarily by his grandmother, Kennedy Kirksey, who watched all the grandchildren while their parents worked.

“She’d have 20 grandkids at her house,” Garner said with a smile. “We didn’t have anything. We ate the syrup sandwiches, mayonnaise sandwiches, hot cornbread in buttermilk sprinkled with sugar — you were really doing something then. But everybody around us lived the same. I thought we were rich, as far as food and things. Me and my cousins would pick blackberries, we had plums, we made plum wine and blackberry wine. We made slides out of cardboard and go down hills. A swing was a big vine that hung between two trees. We stayed outside all the time. It was a good lifestyle. “

2. Rarely left Leeds growing up

Garner said he rarely got out of Leeds. In fact, he said he could count on one hand the times he left the city before he became a highly-sought-after recruit as a senior offensive lineman at Leeds High.

“I went to Huntsville once on a field trip to see the space center,” he said. “And I went to Six Flags. I thought that’s all Atlanta was, Six Flags. I’d never been to Montgomery. I knew the capital was there, but that was it. So I was just sort of living in my own world. Then I started getting recruited and I was like, ‘Wow, there’s places outside of Leeds!’”

Garner eventually chose Auburn over Alabama, Florida State, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Iowa and West Virginia. He earned first-team All-SEC and honorable mention All-America honors with the Tigers.

3. Not love at first sight for wife Kim

It was not love at first sight for Garner and his wife of 16 years, the former Kim Lawson.

“We didn’t date at Auburn,” Garner said. “I don’t think Kim liked me at Auburn and I know I didn’t like her. She was studious; that’s a nice way of saying she was a nerd. I was not ever what you’d consider studious. And her father had told her, ‘don’t date athletes,’ so she wasn’t going to have anything to do with any athlete, especially me.”

It was after Garner had graduated and was coaching at Auburn that Kim fell for Garner, and vice-versa. The sparks first appeared at 30,000 feet.

“We were playing Arkansas and she was a flight attendant for Delta and she did our flight on the way back,” Garner said. “I saw her and walked up to a friend and said, ‘Dog, that looks like that nerdy Kim Lawson.’ She was always pretty, but she was a nerd before. We’re on the plane and the players are like, ‘Coach, you see that girl?’ I was like, ‘yeah, I know that girl; I went to school with her.’ So we got to talking and she told me she was living in Atlanta. I told her I was always in Atlanta recruiting, so maybe we could get together.”

A short time later, Kim invited Garner and some of his friends to attend a Delta Christmas party in Atlanta, “and that’s where it started,” Garner said.

4. ‘Manning up’ for Bridgett

Kim wasn’t just getting Garner when they decided to marry. Garner had a child with another woman when he was still in college at Auburn. Garner’s relationship with the child’s mother did not last, but he and little Bridgett remained inseparable. With the help of his mother, Melva Garner, Garner raised Bridgett while still in college.

“You have to be a man; you have to accept your responsibilities, and I did,” Garner said. “I worked ever y summer, every spring break and every Christmas break. I had responsibility. It was just about manning up and accepting your responsibilities when things happen. That’s what I had to do.”

It was not an easy time in Garner’s life. First of all, his mother was not happy with him. Secondly, there were some realities that came with his fatherly responsibilities.

“Believe me, I was in shock for a while,” he said. “My mom was devastated; she was crushed. But I definitely wasn’t raised that way and you have to accept responsibility for your decisions. You have to take care of your babies. I had to bust my butt. So the guys would go on spring break, I would go to work.”

Bridgett, now 25, joined Rodney and Kim in Knoxville and has remained with them ever since.

5. ‘Mr. B’ comes through for ‘Coach G’

Having to work every break led Garner into one of the closest relationships he has had outside of his family. That first spring, he got a job working at Royal Oldsmobile in Birmingham. The owner of that and several other dealerships is a man named Dave Belcher. Not only did Belcher provide Garner with work, but he also became Garner’s closest adviser.

“He’s like my second father,” Garner said. “To this day I don’t do anything without talking to Mr. B first. I truly love him like a father. Mr. B and Ms. Sue, they were godsends for me. I could not have made it without him.”

Garner says that one of the hardest things he’s had to do in his professional life is tell Belcher he wasn’t going to return to Auburn to coach. Learning of their relationship, former Tigers’ coach Tommy Tuberville appealed to Belcher as a middle man to help lure Garner back to The Plains several years ago.

“That was very emotional; very difficult,” he said.

6. Daddy’s little girls

It’s hard to imagine now that Garner and Lawson once had difficulty having children. Today they have six kids – all girls.

Brie, 15, was born in Knoxville while Garner was working at Tennessee. She’s a cheerleader and runs track at Athens Christian. His other four daughters were born in Athens. Jaiden, 10, is into basketball and gymnastics. Kai, 9, loves golf. The twins, Sydney and Milan, 7, are into basketball and tennis.

Garner likes to hunt and fish and occasionally play golf. But with his three-title schedule as a Georgia coach, Garner’s only hobby these days is spending time with his children. This summer, one or the other can usually be found at one of UGA’s many sports camps.

“If we have a little dead period, I’ll run over there and watch them,” he said. “You’ve just got to make it work. It’s important, so you just figure out a way to get there.”

7. Richt provides roots

Garner has had many opportunities to leave Georgia for other jobs. In fact, he said he never intended to remain with the Bulldogs for 10 years, much less 15. But then Richt came to Georgia in 2001 and, trying to balance the responsibilities of coach, husband and father, Garner considers theirs a providential relationship.

“I’m blessed to work for a guy like Coach Richt, who makes it a family environment around here,” Garner said. “That’s the reason I stayed. You hear all the horror stories from coaches who say their biggest regret is they didn’t spend quality time with their children. I don’t know that I’ve spent a quantity of time with my kids, but I think all my kids would say I spend quality time with them. I try to involve them as much as I can in the business just to have them around and to see them.”

Garner works hard to blend work with home. He’s known for putting together some great home-cooked meals for his players, especially the annual Thanksgiving feast at their Oconee County home.

“I want my daughters to be around the players so they don’t grow up resenting my players for being the people that kept Daddy away,“ he said. “For the same reason, I want my players in my home so they can see me in a different light as a father and a husband. I want them out there at the house, I want their girlfriends out there. I want to see who they’re dating. I want them to know what it is to be a man.”

8. His utopia is in Tuskegee

When Garner was still an assistant coach at Auburn, he made his first major purchase – 111 acres in Tuskegee, Ala. Technically it is a farm, but Garner bought it only as a place to hunt and fish and has never plowed an inch of ground there. He leases the hunting rights as a way to help pay the taxes on it.

“My wife is always on me because I probably haven’t been on my property for six or seven years,” Garner said. “It’s got an old house on it, but it’s not worth the match it’d take to burn it down.”

Garner talks of possibly retiring to the property one day.

“Plant a garden, hunt, fish, put some chickens out there, cows. Man, I’d be happy,” he says with a big chuckle. “I could live there, but I don’t know if Kim would. She always bucks it when I talk about retiring there.”

9. Recruiting is his game

Garner is known for sending defensive linemen to the NFL by the droves. He’s produced four first-round draft picks at Georgia and several Pro Bowl starters. But his primary acumen has been for identifying and luring talent to Athens. He has been the recruiting coordinator for the Bulldogs since 1998 and has seen a lot of changes in that time.

“It has become so commercialized,” he said of the business. “So many people are making so much money off of it now. You have all these different websites, people following it, bloggers. It’s just taken on its own identity. In the SEC, there’s football season and there’s recruiting. That’s how much emphasis is placed on it, right, wrong or indifferent. But there’s no exact science to recruiting. That’s the reality of it. It’s hard to be right all the time. There are a lot of variables involved.”

10. 2012 D-line one of Garner’s best

Everybody seems to agree the Bulldogs have gotten all variables right in regard to the 2012 defensive line. Georgia’s front three is expected to be one of the school’s best ever, with 350-pounders John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers manning the noseguard position, Abry Jones and Garrison Smith at the ends and top-notch backups at every spot.

“I’m proud of these guys. I really am,” Garner said. “I’m proud of the type of young men that they are. I’m proud of the things they bring to the table, not just from an athleticism standpoint, but for overall work ethic, for leadership qualities, everything. I’m really honored just to have the opportunity to coach them.”

Garner stops short of labeling the 2012 group as the best he’s had. For him, the 2000 D-line is a slam dunk in that regard. That one featured Richard Seymour, Marcus Stroud, Charles Grant and Josh Mallard, with Johnathan Sullivan as the primary backup. Four were first-round draft picks and all have had extensive NFL careers.

82 comments Add your comment

dean

June 25th, 2012
11:18 am

Thanks Chip.

For selfish reasons, let’s hope another school doesn’t show up with an offer too good to refuse.

Dawg Haus

June 25th, 2012
11:30 am

Good stuff, Chip. Thanks for sharing! Coach Garner is a stand-up guy and a quality coach. I hope he stays in Athens for a long time.

outkasted

June 25th, 2012
11:33 am

cool thanks nice insight

BigGAdawg

June 25th, 2012
11:34 am

Great series! It is good to have a chance to get to know the man. Most of us just get to know a name and title. I’m looking forward to learning more about the other coaches. After reading this I am happy that UGA has been blessed to have this man on the coaching staff for so long. I hope he will finish his career between the hedges.
WOOF!

Lowcountry Bulldawg

June 25th, 2012
11:35 am

Great read Chip!

@politiconupe

June 25th, 2012
11:38 am

Great read, thanks.

Just curious, is there any connection between Coach Garner and Charles Barkley? They’re both from Leeds, near the same age and went to Auburn.

Chip Towers

June 25th, 2012
11:41 am

Lowcountry, others: Thanks for the kind words. That’s the point of this series, to get to know then men behind the whistles. We quote them all the time about who is supposed to start and who’s injured, etc. But rarely do we get to share much about their personalities and likes and dislikes. This series is a chance to do that. Hope you enjoy it as much as I am.

Holy Guacamole

June 25th, 2012
11:46 am

Thanks for the great article on coach G. It’s nice to see something positive for a change. Seems like the haters on this blog constantly berate him as lazy and inefficient. Shows again what little they know.

Taco Meat

June 25th, 2012
11:54 am

Great read, Chip. I, too, hope Coach G remains in Athens for years to come.

Frank Lane

June 25th, 2012
11:59 am

This is a really good insight into a man who holds important roles at UGA. Thanks for the article. I earned new respect for him. Particularly in the personal responsibility area.

chilidawg

June 25th, 2012
12:01 pm

Old Dawg

June 25th, 2012
12:02 pm

Nice series, Chip. I really enjoy stories like these, it’s one of the primary reasons I enjoy sports sections.

Big Albany Dawg

June 25th, 2012
12:15 pm

Great insight on Coach. Thanks Chip. Well done.

Cdpridg

June 25th, 2012
12:26 pm

Thanks Chip…great series of articles on our coaches

M. Mond

June 25th, 2012
12:27 pm

“So I hired Wayne Hall. One week on the job, Hall came in with a ledger of players who have been paid, who paid the money, how much money and when it was paid. He said we’ve still got 9-12 players that we’re paying $600 per month.

We paid then $12,000-$15,000 to sign. We sign about four every year that we pay.(Former assistant coach Rodney) Garner paid most of the players. He was paid when he was a player at Auburn.(Stacey) Danley is the assistant compliance guy, and he was paid when he was a player. I broke the rules. I said pay it off, and it will never happen again.

Hall said “OK, but you will change your mind.” Katherine came to Auburn as my assistant, but she worked for Colonial. We were real close. I told Lowder “We have cash all over.” Lowder said “I told Wayne not to collect more than we had to have to pay the players.” Wayne had a safe in his house wherehe kept the money. Within two weeks of me being hired they told me about paying Jelks.”

http://www.illegalshift.com/2010/11/18/remember-the-terry-bowden-interview-in-2001/college-football/

Q

June 25th, 2012
12:34 pm

Thanks for the article Mond. We get it, you don’t like UGA, and want to pee on a really well written piece. Now go away.

Plus, we are supposed to take anything the Midget Bowden says with any validity? Idiot.

DePort

June 25th, 2012
12:51 pm

Wow … there was not one negative post on here yet… This must be an all time first!

Kmac

June 25th, 2012
1:03 pm

this is a joke

buzzDawg

June 25th, 2012
1:05 pm

Garner is a very good coach and recruiter. Georgia is very fortunate to have him. After the season is played out, let’s hope Garner will be saying the 2012 defensive line is the best he’s ever coached.

Kmac

June 25th, 2012
1:06 pm

Deport u spoke to soon

Mark (another one)

June 25th, 2012
1:11 pm

Garner admits to his mistakes and takes ownership. Then he moves on with his life trying to do the right thing. That’s being a man. I’m happy he’s found a professional home at UGA. He leads by example, and every team needs coaches that do so.

These ‘human interest’ stories are something I greatly enjoy. There are many good people involved in sports. Thanks for sharing this story with us.

Homepage | MrSEC

June 25th, 2012
1:12 pm

[...] 6.  Georgia D-line coach Rodney Garner says he’s been “blessed” to be a part of SEC football for 28 years. [...]

Huckleberry Hound

June 25th, 2012
1:14 pm

Hope Coach Garner is with the program for many more years…shucks..I do believe that Buck Belue does sound like me on the radio!

Kmac

June 25th, 2012
1:15 pm

Looks like he has been putting down some Lamb chops! (seriously)

Kmac

June 25th, 2012
1:18 pm

BigGADawg

Did you say woof? This is going to be a long season for Rodney Garner and the dogs

'94 UGA Alumnus

June 25th, 2012
1:27 pm

We’re proud to have you as one of our coaches ‘Coach G’ and hope you’ll stay for a really long time.

[...] did a double take when I saw this, but Rodney Garner has spent half his life as an SEC coach.  I wonder how many others can say that. Share [...]

bkbroila

June 25th, 2012
1:46 pm

Hanging out with tons of Guidos at the jersey shore for a family wedding….wanted to check in on my Dawgs while I was out of town…..Kmac belongs up here with these unbearable D-bags….can’t wait to get back home…go dawgs!!!!

RHall55

June 25th, 2012
1:49 pm

Dawg Haus and Taco Meat: Do you realize as RC last year, CRG only signed 19 kids when he the chance to sign 27 in the football rich state of GA!! Only 16.6% of the state’s top 50; we’ll see how the depth of UGA is effected over the years!! CRG has lost too many very good in-state players to keep his current position!! He mentioned about rarely leaving Leeds; I think he rarely leaves Athens to recruit!! He needs to retire because he practically has eaten himself out of job!! Sorry, got to go; new fresh, more energetic blood to have a chance to win a NC!!

DawginLex

June 25th, 2012
2:00 pm

If I remember correctly, Garner was a big coup for Donnan and was the beginning of the end for fulmer. Garner recruited all of that defensive line that played for UT in 98 even though he was in Athens by then.

RHall, you are dead wrong about Garner and the UGA coaches not traveling to see recruits.

They are all over the place, multiple states too.

DawginLex

June 25th, 2012
2:01 pm

Dawgs 27
TROLLS 3

trueUGAfan

June 25th, 2012
2:15 pm

Rhall55, you do realize that these kids are “recruits”, meaning just that “recruits”, which means that they have options, they do not and I say it again, do not have to sign with a particular school just because they were offered or live in that particular state…I do think these kids make the best decision for them and their families, not you and yours…GO DAWGS!!!

Ghost

June 25th, 2012
2:18 pm

RHall55, Its amazing how little you know about recruiting.

Ole Big Dawg

June 25th, 2012
2:21 pm

Rodney Garner is a DGD!

BG

June 25th, 2012
2:28 pm

Garner is a DGD!

Top Row Dawg

June 25th, 2012
2:28 pm

The rise of UGA and demise of UT is directly related to the hiring of RG from them.

heathbar09

June 25th, 2012
2:36 pm

You know how I know RHall’s comment is worthless? 16.6% of 50 is 8.3. So, according to him, UGA signed 3 tenths of a player last year. Didn’t know that was possible. FYI, there are other states with good players. You forgot to point out that we grabbed the #1 player in NC and FL. Before last season, UGA was the only school in the country to be ranked in the top 10 of rivals rankings 2001-2011. And last year they were 12th. Sounds like Gardner should be given a raise, not fired Mr. Hall.

McDonut

June 25th, 2012
2:39 pm

There is a reason SEC fans nicknamed him “The Bagman.”

WDE

June 25th, 2012
2:55 pm

Great article on a DGD !

flo-ri-duh

June 25th, 2012
3:06 pm

kmac is a closet nerd.

Cdpridg

June 25th, 2012
3:22 pm

Top Row Dawg….you hit the nail on the head….Richt and Garner pushed Fulmer out of N Ga and the Atlanta metro effectively causing the demise of UT costing Fulmer his job. Ut held on to Fulmer a few yrs longer than they should…Garner and Richt pushed him out basically in 3 short yrs.

RxDawg

June 25th, 2012
3:30 pm

Great stuff Chip. Was talking with some other Dawgs earlier today. Our opinion of the AJC isn’t exactly… high. But you are one of the reasons we keep coming back. Thanks for the great work you do.

RxDawg

June 25th, 2012
3:34 pm

Well M. Mond, aren’t you glad that Rodney got out of that cheating environment in mid eastern Alabama? See, anyone can change their ways and move on to a productive life no matter how bad of a college they went to.

DawginLex

June 25th, 2012
3:41 pm

Dawg Fud

June 25th, 2012
3:44 pm

ARdawg

June 25th, 2012
3:57 pm

Apparently the environment hasn’t changed much in Auburn

ARdawg

June 25th, 2012
3:57 pm

Or Tech for that matter

TampaGator

June 25th, 2012
4:07 pm

Mr. Garner has been packing away a lot of ‘que, potatoes, gravy, and cornbread…..since his arrival in Athens.

SSGt Dawg

June 25th, 2012
4:28 pm

Coach G has coached up done DGDs over his span. He has 2 maybe 3 1st rounders on this roster more, and that’s not counting incoming D lineman. Jenkins, Geathers, and Drew SHOULD all be 1st rounders. Its a blessing to have a coach that is such a good man along with recruiter. Hopefully he’ll be a Dawg for a long time.

RHall55

June 25th, 2012
4:29 pm

Ghost, prove to me what you know about in-state recruiting: Give me the information on the recruitment of 2012: Dillon Lee, JaQuay Williams, Raphael Kirby, Jason Croom, Josh Holsey or Will Adams? 2010: Jeff Whitaker, Jawaun James, Adrian Hubbard, Brian Volger or JC Copeland? 2009: Phil Lutzenkirchen, Johnnie Farms, DJ Adams, Kevin Minter, Chance Womack, or Kellen Williams? 2008: Omar Hunter, Brice Butler, Brandon Thompson, Chaz Sutton, or Chase Thomas? or maybe the worst year of all:2008: Eric Berry, Cam Newton, Antwane Greenlee, Morgan Bailey, Allen Bailey, Cam Heywood, Jonathan Dwyer, Nick Claytor, T-Bob Hebert, Ted Laurent, or Addison Williams; GHOST, you’ve probably don’t recognize many of these names; there are others!! There is your NC Team; stay w/ Man Boobs and see if you win a NC!!! Already lost Nkemdiche this year; win a NC and the man can keep his job, but if he keeps losing players of this caliber by not offering or too late of offers, he needs to go fish!!