After 15 years associated with the Georgia program, Bulldog recruiting coordinator, assistant head coach, and defensive line coach Rodney Garner has accepted a comparable position with Auburn, his alma mater.
Before saying anything that might come across as sour grapes, we’re grateful for what Garner did at Georgia. His willingness to serve as a key member of the transition from Donnan to Richt helped stabilize the program, and that stability had a great deal to do with Mark Richt’s ability to enjoy immediate success in 2001 and 2002. From Richard Seymour to DeAngelo Tyson, Garner’s linemen are spread across the NFL, and more are on the way this year. 15 years of service is a long time for any coach, but it’s an eternity in the fluid world of assistant coaches.
It’s a lateral move in terms of job titles, but it might’ve just been time for both parties to go their separate ways. Georgia didn’t seem to put up as much of a fight as they did in 2009 when Lane Kiffin tried to pry Garner to Knoxville. Though he’s added the title of assistant head coach over the years, Garner has been primarily a position coach for his 15 years at Georgia. He has seen Georgia hire three defensive coordinators over him, and his career had stagnated. With aspirations to be a head coach, he likely sees Auburn as an opportunity to re-boot his career path at age 46.
The immediate concern is recruiting. Georgia has a solid class committed, and they have the opportunity to finish with a bang. Obviously the loss of the recruiting coordinator is significant. Current commitments must be reassured, and the remaining prospects will have to build new relationships with the Georgia staff.
Before we panic, Garner wasn’t the only recruiter on Georgia’s staff. Tight ends coach John Lilly was the former recruiting coordinator at Florida State and remains one of Georgia’s best closers. Mike Bobo is also an outstanding recruiter and – along with Todd Grantham – accounted for many of the key signings in the “Dream Team” class of 2011. These three, as well as Coach Richt and the rest of the remaining staff, will be in contact with recruits as soon as the rules allow. There will be the need for immediate damage control as rivals jump on a perceived moment of weakness and opportunity, but the right people are in place to keep any attrition to a minimum.
Any concerns or theories about what Georgia might do with this opening (such as bringing in a special teams coach) were put to bed by Todd Grantham almost as soon as the Garner news broke. Grantham told UGASports.com that “(Grantham) will be the person responsible for hiring Garner’s replacement, and that the hire will be for a new defensive line coach.”
If Grantham’s track record with Lakatos and Olivadotti tell us anything about Garner’s replacement, it will be that Grantham will lean on his personal and professional relationships to find a coach. Lakatos had been a longtime friend of Grantham’s before Georgia’s new coordinator announced what seemed like an obscure hire. Grantham had coached with Olivadotti’s father in the NFL.
Garner will be missed, but his departure affords Grantham the opportunity to own the composition of the defensive staff. Georgia’s 2013 line will be relatively inexperienced and thin (depending on draft decisions), and they’ll be looking to build depth quickly. The Dawgs will need a capable technician able to step in and build on the standard set for Georgia defensive linemen, and they’ll also need a strong recruiter to replace what they’re losing in Garner. Hopefully such a man exists in Grantham’s contacts list.