AUBURN - Rodney Garner has experienced Auburn football at its best. He played on two Southeastern Conference championship teams. He coached on a team that went 11-0 and another that ran that winning streak to 20 games.
Rodney Garner will join Auburn's staff immediately
Thursday night, he accepted an offer to return to his alma mater on the staff of first-year head coach Gus Malzahn. And he vowed to do all he can to take Auburn back to those glory days.
"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," Garner said. "I look forward to helping get Auburn back to where it belongs.”
Less than two years removed from the national championship, Auburn staggered to a 3-9 record in 2012, resulting in the dismissal of head coach Gene Chizik and his entire staff.
Garner, who left Auburn after the 1995 season, returns after spending two seasons at Tennessee and 15 seasons at Georgia. It will be a homecoming for Garner, his wife Kimberly and their six children. Kimberly is also an Auburn graduate.
“I owe a lot to Auburn and the men who helped mold me to who I am today both professionally and personally," Garner said. "I’m very appreciative to Coach Malzahn for this opportunity, and I feel very strongly that I can be an asset to the program."
Garner will be assistant head coach, will coach the defensive line and serve as recruiting coordinator. He filled those same roles at Georgia.
AuburnUndercover.com reported Tuesday that Garner was a serious candidate. He had an offer on the table, but it was not certain at the time whether he would coach the defensive line or tight ends. Tennessee Titans' defensive line coach Tracy Rocker, a Hall of Fame player at Auburn and the defensive line coach on the 2010 national championship team, also had an offer on the table.
Rocker apparently decided not to return to the college game, opening the door for Garner to coach the defensive line. Malzahn and Garner quickly reached agreement. As word got out Thursday night, Auburn officially announced his hiring. Garner will join the Auburn staff immediately and will meet today with reporters.
Garner told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he left Georgia only because his school called.
“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 told the newspaper he cherished his time at Georgia. He was hired in 1998 by former coach Jim Donnan and retained in 2001 by current coach Mark Richt.
“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 will be the fifth coach added to Malzahn's staff, joining defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, offensive line coach J.B. Grimes and defensive backs coach Charlie Harbison.
An All-SEC offensive lineman on Auburn's 1988 SEC championship team, Garner returned to Auburn in 1990 as a strength and conditioning coach and became tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator. It was at Auburn that his recruiting prowess began to show.
After leaving Auburn, Garner coached tight ends and offensive tackles at Tennessee in 1996 and 1997 before moving to Georgia.