NAME THAT BOSS
In 15 seasons as Georgia's defensive line coach, Rodney Garner worked under six defensive coordinators:
1. Joe Kines (1998)
2. Kevin Ramsey (1999)
3. Gary Gibbs (2000)
4. Brian VanGorder (2001-04)
5. Willie Martinez (2005-09)
6. Todd Grantham (2010-12)
Georgia wrapped up its on-campus football practices for the Capital One Bowl minus one assistant coach Friday morning.
While the Bulldogs were continuing their preparation for Nebraska on New Year's Day with a 90-minute workout, defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Rodney Garner was in street clothes packing up boxes in his office at the Butts-Mehre athletic complex. Garner, the veteran of Georgia's coaching staff, was finally headed home.
Auburn announced late Thursday night that Garner had accepted the opportunity to have the same responsibilities with the Tigers. The 46-year-old Garner played at Auburn from 1984 to '88 and was with his alma mater from 1990 to '95 in varying roles as recruiting coordinator, tight ends coach and strength and conditioning assistant.
Garner, who is from the Birmingham suburb of Leeds, was welcomed by some of his former teammates as he was introduced Friday afternoon by new Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn.
"I can tell you this is a very surreal moment for me just to have this opportunity to be back here at a place that has meant so much to my life both personally and professionally," Garner said. "As I look back on my career, I know I wouldn't be in the position that I'm in today if it wasn't for Auburn University. This place is very special and very dear to me."
Garner said Georgia always would be a special place to him as well. He and his wife, Kim, had four of their five daughters in Athens. He added that he and Kim, also an Auburn graduate, made an effort to take two trips to Auburn each year.
"Our goal in life, if we were blessed, was to have our kids go to Auburn no matter where I was coaching," Garner said.
Another reason for Garner's switch was "helping to get Auburn back to where it belongs." The Tigers went 3-9 this season and lost eight Southeastern Conference games for the first time in program history.
Garner was a Tennessee assistant in 1996 and '97 before being hired at Georgia by Jim Donnan. He was the only assistant retained by current Bulldogs coach Mark Richt, who was hired to replace Donnan after the 2000 season.
"He was the first assistant I hired when I came to Georgia, and it turned out to be a great decision," Richt said. "He's a tremendous ball coach, recruiter and mentor, and he's 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."
Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo is now the lone Georgia assistant who has been with Richt from the start.
The Bulldogs have assembled top-20 recruiting classes every year since Garner's arrival, finishing in the top 10 most of the time. Georgia has 30 commitments for its 2013 signing class, and Garner said recently that as many as half could enroll early.
A cousin of former Auburn and NBA great Charles Barkley, Garner was a starting offensive guard on Auburn's 1987 and '88 SEC championship teams. He was a backup noseguard during the '86 season before moving to offense.
Garner was the third-highest paid Georgia assistant at $300,000, but he is expected to make more than that at Auburn. He declined previous invitations to join Auburn's staff from Tommy Tuberville and Gene Chizik, who led the Tigers to the 2010 national championship but was fired last month.
"I said I was going to take my time and hire the right guy for each position that has the right character, and we hired one of the best in the business right here in Rodney Garner," Malzahn said. "He's an Auburn man. You can see his teammates are here, and that this is a very special moment right now."
Always active in offseason coaching changes, Garner also interviewed in recent years with LSU, Tennessee and the NFL's New Orleans Saints.
"My goal is to be here and finish out my career," Garner said.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...