AUBURN, Ala. – The homecomings keep rolling in.
This one is the first officially announced Auburn alum to return to the Plains, as longtime Georgia assistant head coach Rodney Garner was hired late Thursday night to join the Tigers’ staff in the same role.
“It was a very difficult decision,” Garner told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I’ve been approached about it many times about the 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 will also coach the defensive line and serve as recruiting coordinator. Garner replaces Mike Pelton leading the defensive line, who was the only Auburn graduate on last year’s coaching staff.
“We are excited to announce Rodney Garner as our assistant head coach and defensive line coach,” Malzahn said. “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.”
Garner was a utility man at Auburn in his post-playing days from 1990-95, helping as recruiting coordinator, tight ends coach, and assistant strength and conditioning coach. A nose guard in college, he was all-SEC and honorable mention All-America as a senior in 1988.
“Auburn has always been a very special place for me and my wife, Kimberly, who is also an Auburn graduate,” Garner said. “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.”
Garner told the AJC “it’s a good deal” with Auburn, though financial terms with Garner were not released. He made $300,000 annually at Georgia.
Garner coached the Bulldogs’ D-Line and served as recruiting coordinator from 1998-2012. He helped coach Mark Richt lead Georgia to two SEC championships, five SEC East titles, and at least seven bowl victories and six top ten finishes leading into Georgia’s New Year’s Day date with Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl.
The kitchen is fairly well-stocked for Garner’s entrance. Defensive ends Corey Lemonier and Dee Ford are set to return – though Lemonier has not yet made a decision whether to forego his senior year in favor of testing the NFL draft waters.
Nosa Eguae and Craig Sanders add depth at defensive end. Defensive tackles Angelo Blackson, Jeffrey Whitaker, Gabe Wright and Kenneth Carter are also back in the fray.
Garner is originally from Leeds, Ala. He coached tight ends at Tennessee from 1996-97.
Malzahn’s staff now includes Garner, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, offensive line coach J.B. Grimes, defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson and defensive backs coach Charlie Harbison. The remaining openings include running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, linebackers and special teams.