UPDATED: Football assistant Rodney Garner leaving Georgia ‘to get Auburn back on track’

Rodney Garner has served as Georgia's defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator for 15 years. He has been Mark Richt's assistant head coach since 2005. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Rodney Garner has served as Georgia's defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator for 15 years. He has been Mark Richt's assistant head coach since 2005. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

ATHENS – In the end, Rodney Garner felt like he could no longer ignore his alma mater’s calls for help.

Garner, Georgia’s assistant head coach, recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach for the past 12 years, accepted an offer to handle the same jobs at Auburn, where he played offensive line and started his coaching career. He will also receive a significant salary increase from the $300,000 a year he earned with the Bulldogs.

But as Garner adamantly pointed out in an exclusive interview with the AJC Thursday night, “this is not about the money.”

“It was a very difficult decision,” Garner said. “I’ve been approached many times about this opportunity. But it’s my alma mater. It may be more of a pride thing, just looking at where they are right now and feeling like I really wanted to be a part of getting them back on track. I just felt like God was leading me in this direction. It’s something I prayed about and it was not an easy decision. I would not have left for any other reason than Auburn.”

Garner, 46, has received overtures from Auburn several times over the years, including from Tommy Tuberville and Gene Chizik. Chizik was dismissed after the Tigers went 3-9 this past season. Gus Malzahn, who was Chizik’s offensive coordinator but left to become head coach at Arkansas State, was hired by Auburn on Dec. 4.

Garner has spent the last 12 seasons at Georgia working under head coach Mark Richt. He was hired at UGA by former coach Jim Donnan in 1998. A native of Leeds, Ala., he played for the Tigers under Pat Dye from 1984-88. He also met his wife Kimberly there.

Garner will join the Tigers’ staff immediately.

“It’s just time,” Garner said. “I’ve been at Georgia 15 years. It’s been awesome. Worked for two great head coaches at the University of Georgia. Jim Donnan gave me the opportunity to come here, who I have a tremendous amount of respect and love for. And then Coach Richt who retained me and I worked for him for 12 years. Coach Donnan is already in the Hall of Fame, and I’m sure Coach Richt will be one day. So it was a very difficult decision.”

Garner said he spent a long time Thursday counseling with Georgia’s team chaplain Thomas Settles about his decision, then a long time talking to Richt Thursday night.

“It’s difficult because you’re going to a rival school,” Garner said. “Mark has been very good to me and I want people to know that. People need to recognize the body of work that Mark has done here. Here’s a guy who has been at Georgia 12 years and he’s gone to the (SEC) championship game five times. Prior to him coming there, they’d never been to that game. I look at what he’s done there for 12 years, the way he’s done it, the way he’s won with class and integrity, and he’s just been a great guy to work for. So it’s hard leaving him. I mean it really was. But everything I hear about Coach (Gus) Malzahn is that he’s that same caliber of man, cut from that same cloth, and I think it will be a family-friendly environment, which is important to me, with a wife and six daughters.”

Many preliminary reports about Garner’s interest in joining the Auburn hinted at discord between him and Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. Nothing could be further from the truth.

“The defensive staff we had at Georgia, Coach Grantham, I just think he’s great; he’s awesome,” Garner said. “I think Todd deserves to be a head coach. I was really thinking he’d get some shots at it this year. I think he’s one of the brightest minds I’ve ever been around. Then Scott (Lakatos) and KO (Kirk Olivadotti), we just had a lot of chemistry on that staff.”

Garner would not discuss the financial terms of his contract with Auburn other than to say, “it’s a good deal.” He was on a yearly contract with Bulldogs.

“I’m sure at some point it will all become public record, but that’s not what this was about,” he reiterated.

Regardless, Garner’s departure comes at a complicated time for Georgia. The Bulldogs are in the midst of recruiting their biggest class of the restricted-scholarship era  — around 35 in all — and obviously Garner is the hub of that effort. Best known for attracting great defensive linemen to come play for him, Georgia has been considered a leader for junior college all-star Toby Johnson and 5-star defensive tackle Montravius Adams of Dooly County. Both signings could now be in jeopardy.

“I’m kind of surprised, but it helps Auburn,” Adams told 247Sports. “We have a great relationship. He’s a great guy. I know that he’s a guy that will get defensive linemen to the league. I wouldn’t mind him being a guy that coaches me for three or four years. He’s going to be a guy that I’m going to be with most of the time besides the weight-training guy.”

Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs was the first to announce Garner’s hire via Twitter. Auburn later sent out a news release that quoted Malzahn and Garner.

“We’re excited to announce Rodney Garner as our assistant head coach and defensive line coach,” Malzahn said in the statement. “Rodney is one of the top defensive line coaches in college football who has had great success in the Southeastern Conference. We’re excited to welcome an Auburn man back home.”

Said Garner: “I owe a lot to Auburn and the men who helped mold me to who I am today both professionally and personally. I’m very appreciative to Coach Malzahn for this opportunity and I feel very strongly that I can be an asset to the program. I have a lot of love for Auburn and I felt this was a great chance to help give back to a place that has given me so much. I look forward to helping get Auburn back to where it belongs.”

Richt finally acknowledged Garner’s departure in a statement released at 11 a.m. Friday:

“I want to thank Rodney for 15 years of loyal service to UGA. He was the first assistant I hired when I came to Georgia and it turned out to be a great decision. He’s a tremendous ball coach, recruiter, and mentor and a great example of what a good father and husband should be. He’s been a blessing to my life as well as to UGA. We wish him and Kim all the best.”

MORE ON GARNER

Here’s a link to a “10 Things You Should Know about Rodney Garner” profile I did this past summer.

493 comments Add your comment

JACKIE

December 20th, 2012
11:20 pm

Athens

December 20th, 2012
11:20 pm

Good luck coach……!

dbc

December 20th, 2012
11:21 pm

“It WAS about the money.” No tears shed here…

JACKIE

December 20th, 2012
11:21 pm

NEVER BEFORE

DostaDawg

December 20th, 2012
11:21 pm

Yes! Yes! Yes! You are right Hot Rod…..its past time for you to go!!! Good luck

Taco Meat

December 20th, 2012
11:22 pm

Tough loss from a recruiting standpoint. Best of luck to you, Coach. That is, until you play the Dawgs!

DostaDawg

December 20th, 2012
11:22 pm

Christmas came early for the Bulldawgs this year!! All of those years of good living finally paid off for Coach Richt

Bmcdawg

December 20th, 2012
11:22 pm

This is NOT good for us…..we should find a way to keep him….will come back to haunt us!

Rodeny Garner=AU's new Trooper Taylor!

December 20th, 2012
11:26 pm

Garner WILL be the new ‘Trooper’!!

Former AU Coach Terry Bowden said…

“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.

Nothing was done without Lowder knowing. I will go under oath and say that Lowder looked me in the eyes and said, “I didn’t want Wayne to collect more money than we needed to pay the players.” I was hiding a dirty secret. We were paying (star running back and current Washington Redskin) Steve Davis and his cousin the fullback.

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

Smitty

December 20th, 2012
11:26 pm

WOW did not see that this would happen

Jomps

December 20th, 2012
11:26 pm

The defensive line played great all year…not. Good for you and it IS about the money. Auburn will still suck so who cares.

drbasic1

December 20th, 2012
11:31 pm

SEE YA!!!!!!!!!

boots

December 20th, 2012
11:31 pm

Garner has been loyal to UGA, so I say good luck to him. However, Auburn is a flaming mess. They will need far more than Coach Garner to help turn that sinking ship around.

Dawg

December 20th, 2012
11:35 pm

Addition by subtraction ……… you gotta love it

drbasic1

December 20th, 2012
11:36 pm

look his D-line stunk….Grantham can now not have to be a lame duck when it comes to the line…..he was told to “stay away from Garner” when he was hired…there was conflict there….bet the dline improves 10 fold now

Finchdawg

December 20th, 2012
11:36 pm

Wow, NOT good. Richt has got to find a great replacement recruiting coordinator. This is a pivotal hire.

ViningsMike

December 20th, 2012
11:36 pm

Thank goodness he is gone. I am glad he finally left. He made a lot of recruiting mistakes by choosing players that did not belong at UGA. This is an early Christmas present. UGA will be a much better program and groom a much better assitant Head Coach.

Chris Rock

December 20th, 2012
11:37 pm

Whenever they say its not about the money. . .it IS about the money!

sflanagan21

December 20th, 2012
11:38 pm

Adams will sign with Auburn now… God I hope I’m wrong!

DawgsForever

December 20th, 2012
11:38 pm

The Mayans WERE right! It is the end of the world for UGA!!! NOOOOOOT. Bye bye Garner. Now maybe we can hire a DL coach who can actually coach and not give up 350 yards at such important ball games.

drbasic1

December 20th, 2012
11:38 pm

Finchdawg….yes it is good, delve into Garners past at Auburn, BoBo can be the coord. he is better anyway as is McClendon, d line coach will come from the NFL, just wait and see

dawgbasher

December 20th, 2012
11:39 pm

Yea, Donnan is in the Hall of Fame and soon to be in prison. Impressive resume. Maybe he and O.J. can be cell mates.

The Rev Cecil Newton

December 20th, 2012
11:40 pm

Its NEVER about the money!

Columbus

December 20th, 2012
11:40 pm

Regardless of his coaching ability, one thing is SURE about Rodney Garner…..HE IS AN EXCELLENT RECRUITER. That is why UGA hired him from Tenn. His loss will absolutely be felt. UGA will likely LOSE recruits THIS YEAR due to him leaving. This is NOT good PRIOR to SIGNING DAY….Auburn sucks and will continue to suck. They NEEDED Garner BADLY to help get some kids in there especially since they were losing some this year. The only positive thing about him going now is that Auburn sucks so bad, recruits are not going to go there to rebuild. I wouldnt. This new coach would have to have shown something before he ends up being another Chizik and sucks and is gone too.

This is NOT good for UGA though. NOT GOOD…What he does best IS recruit. And he led UGA recruiting and while some offers were slow….kids really like him. Sucks right before signing day….!

Smitty

December 20th, 2012
11:41 pm

I am all about Adams going to Auburn….just get out of Athens

drbasic1

December 20th, 2012
11:42 pm

ok lets talk about some of his recruits…..hmmm, where are they now….i didn’t say ALL, before you jump me…..

RedandBlackDAWG

December 20th, 2012
11:42 pm

I would think from the way M. Adams talked, our chances of seeing M. Adams at UGA just went way down. Oh well, we can’t get all of the folks we want. Adams will sure be able to shine at Auburn, since with the defections they have had, he will be a star and stand out from the rest for the next couple of years.
I don’t know how much difference it will make for UGA if Garner is here or not. I think the kids come to UGA, more for CMR and Coach Grantham, than by any recruiting Coach Garner does. Still he has been a mainstay for 15 years so if he can get more money a another school, good luck to him.

Reuben Foster

December 20th, 2012
11:43 pm

Time to hire Trooper, boss!

drbasic1

December 20th, 2012
11:44 pm

Columbus…come on man, i appreciate and stand up for 99% of your inputs, but, we will be just fine without Garner

AU

December 20th, 2012
11:44 pm

I find it very funny that all UGA fans are so negative towards him now and not at all during the season. Yeah Alabama rushed for a lot of yards that does not just fall on the DL if falls of LBs for being out of place, CB and Safeties missing tackles etc. Jarvis Jones cant do it all.

Law Dawg

December 20th, 2012
11:45 pm

Hines Ward Should be the New Recruiting Coordinator. He could attract so much talent.

St Nicholas Saban

December 20th, 2012
11:46 pm

drbasic1

December 20th, 2012
11:46 pm

Adams is one player and comes off to me as a prima donna, who wants catered to (well most of these recruits do today) lets get some folks who want to be BULLDOGS and play for the “G”. Anyone remember David Pollack…need I name several??

Smitty

December 20th, 2012
11:46 pm

Top ten recruiting classes year after year so he did a good job. I hate to see him go but it is about the money.

Gator

December 20th, 2012
11:47 pm

Amazing how bad someone suddenly becomes when he leaves for another SEC school. Where was all the talk about the pay at Auburn while he was on your staff for 12 years?

Kirby Smart

December 20th, 2012
11:47 pm

How many championships did Garner recruit for?

Smitty

December 20th, 2012
11:47 pm

should not impact big on recruiting but we need d line guys and that is his job

RedPantsDawg

December 20th, 2012
11:48 pm

Thanks to Garner for what he did at UGA. He had flirted with leaving so many times only to get a raise. I think McGarity might have said enough this time. Now, what does Richt do now? Does he get Grantham and BVG together? Does he use the open slot to hire a special teams coach?

Damon "red" Evans

December 20th, 2012
11:48 pm

Ain’t nobody at UGA cheat!

Smitty

December 20th, 2012
11:49 pm

Hey gator I am not bashing him….

drbasic1

December 20th, 2012
11:49 pm

$300,000 + substantial raise= Money talks BS walks
plain and simple

wareagle7777

December 20th, 2012
11:50 pm

Stop WHINING dawgs! Its not like UGA and AU have no history of coaches being part of both programs. Coach Garner is coming home. Welcome Home!

drbasic1

December 20th, 2012
11:50 pm

Grantham and BVG together………now that would be a sight!!

Aaron Murray

December 20th, 2012
11:50 pm

I can’t eat, I can’t sleep!

drbasic1

December 20th, 2012
11:52 pm

wareagle7777

no whining here sir…..you can have him! I do wish him luck and he will need it at that stink hole, the mess is going to get deeper before it gets better!

Meat Cleaver Weaver

December 20th, 2012
11:52 pm

Don’t let the door hit you in the…

Smitty

December 20th, 2012
11:52 pm

on a lighter note ND 5-1 against Alabama all time

drbasic1

December 20th, 2012
11:53 pm

i need to stop with the eggnog, i’m running off at the keyboard

drbasic1

December 20th, 2012
11:53 pm

smitty….soon to be 5-2

CTG

December 20th, 2012
11:54 pm

This guy was lazy. He got exposed by UA. Bye bye!