ATHENS – Rodney Garner wears a lot of hats for Georgia. He’s assistant head coach, recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach for the Bulldogs. But for media that cover the football program, Garner is known first and foremost as a man who tells it like it is.
Garner was available to talk to reporters for the first time in preseason camp on Sunday. His candor on a number of topics is sure to grab some attention. Garner spoke frankly about Bulldogs’ recruitment — or lack of recruitment — of Penn State players, scholarship management, recruiting character and his personal coaching style, among other things.
Here are some of the highlights from Garner’s 15-minutes question-and-answer session on Sunday:
On asking permission to contact 19 Penn State players . . .
“I ain’t ever figured that out. I guess our compliance office set us up, because we’re the only ones who had to send in a list of guys we were just interested in. We didn’t even contact probably a fifth of them. But they told us, ‘if there’s anybody you think you may ever want to contact, turn the names in.” Next thing you know, Georgia is recruiting is all these names. Who are they? I don’t know. We can’t say anyway. I’m like, ‘where’s everybody else’s list at? Did they not have to do that.’
“Georgia’s got some open records laws now. Man, we do; we’ve got them. Somebody needs to call Nick [Saban] and see what list they sent in. There were a couple of guys at some need positions that we looked at to see if there was interest if it could’ve worked.”
On the rules regarding Penn State transfers . . .
“I just think there has been some false reporting about how it all works. People were saying you could take a Penn State player and it would not count against you. That’s not true. It’s going to count against you. It’s going to count against your 85, it’s going to count against your initial 25. The only thing was, if you had 25 initials and you were at 85 this year and you took one, next year you had 24 initials and you had to be at 84. So it was bad reporting.
“We had to sit there with a number of kids we already had committed and felt good about and realize that if we took one it was going to take away from the number. So that’s the strategy when you look at how you go about about it. Everybody’s saying, ‘why didn’t Georgia take any, roster management, da, da, da.’ Well, it was going to affect what our wish would be if we get everything right for January and February by what we could take.
“Now there were a couple of guys we thought, ‘if we could get these two guys, that would offset and it would be fine.’ Now if they say you can take them and it doesn’t count against the 85 and not count against the 25, you could back count for it or allow it, you’d try to get all the seniors you could. But that’s not the way it was. Unfortunately, nobody’s come out and just said that. . . .The kids did not have to sit out, so it was not a penalty for the kids. But the program that takes them, you have to fit it into the number.”
On whether Georgia has mismanaged its roster or just been unlucky . . .
“Well, we’ve had a lot of attrition. You know, when you sit there and look at it, it’s the way we run our program. I don’t know what other people do, but I know we run a pretty stringent program and we’ve have had some unfortunate incidents to pop up. I’m not saying it’s a common occurrence, but there are probably other programs out there that are going through similar things, depending on what kind of structure they have.
“But I do like the quality of the young men that we have in this program. Some of the guys that we’ve lost – and we’ve lost a lot of guys – you wish you could have been able to save a few of them. It definitely would have helped your situation. But a lot of those guys we made the decision to cut and move on. It wasn’t a university decision or whatever. It was just, ‘what do we want this program to be known as, what do we want it to be?’ It’s a double-edged sword. What do you want? You can sweep everything under the rug and have this and have that, but is that what you really want?
“It’s like I tell my guys. I say, ‘who do you want to be teammates with? You want to be around good guys that when you get old you’d still want to be around them; or do you want to be around a bunch of whatevers?’ It’s the way Coach [Mark] Richt wants to run this program and I think he does a heck of a job running it. I think he does a good job. And I think because of our philosophy sometimes we take some undue criticism. I really do in my heart believe we have good kids. I really do.”
On evaluating prospects’ character in recruiting . . .
“You’re constantly trying to evaluate character. Have you got kids? I’m raising mine and I’m trying to get them to do this and do that, but there’s some days they disappoint the heck out of me. They don’t always do what I say to do. I want them to and I’ll whup them and I do whup them. But they don’t always do what I want to do.
“Now think if you have 125. I can promise you thay ain’t all going to do what you say to do all the time. So you’ve got to discipline them and you’ve got to hope to teach them a lesson and help them to learn from it and not make the same mistake and, in turn, make them better.”
On his propensity to yell and get in the faces of young defensive linemen . . .
“You’ve got to break them down. You ever watched the Six Million Dollar Man? You remember that show? What did they tell you? ‘We must rebuild him. We need to make him bigger, faster, stronger, everything.’ You’ve got to tear it down to the foundation to build it back up.
“Y’all are brutal. Let him jump offsides in front 93,000 people. That’s brutal. He better know how to take it. He better be tough-skinned. If I can affect him, wow, we’ve got problems. I’m hard on them, I’m harsh. But you ask them, it’s all about love. In my room it’s called thug-love. It’s hardcore love, but it’s all love. It’s 100 percent love. . . . You’ve got to love them hard but you’ve got to hold them accountable. At the same time you’ve got to put your arm around them and tell them ‘that was a great play, that’s what I’m talking about, this is what you’ve got to do all the time.’
“We all have the same goal: I want them to be a good player, they want to be a good player, their teammates want them to be a good player. It says in the Bible, iron sharpens iron as a man sharpens a man.” So that’s what we’re doing. We’re just challenging them every day to get better. They challenge me to get better as a coach. We just want to challenge each other to get better.”