As Cherokee’s Grip was the first to report here, Rodney Garner has returned to the Plains to serve as assistant head coach, defensive line coach, and recruiting coordinator for the Auburn Tigers after holding the same posts for the Georgia Bulldogs. You’ve gotten straight news from chuckdawg and analysis from MaconDawg, but what’s the bottom line?
Clearly, in the short term, this could have an impact on the 2013 recruiting class. However, given the quality and quantity of the signees Georgia appears likely to land, we probably are discussing the difference between truly outstanding and merely extraordinary, particularly since Georgia has already signed a junior college defensive lineman.
It should be noted, as well, that, while this appears to be a lateral move for Coach Garner, it likewise appears to be a lateral move for Auburn. On the last three national signing days, when Rodney Garner and Trooper Taylor went head-to-head on the recruiting trail, Auburn signed recruiting classes ranked eleven spots higher than Georgia’s in 2010, two spots lower than Georgia’s in 2011, and two spots higher than Georgia’s in 2012. While Coach Garner has been doing a good job for the Bulldogs, it’s hard to argue that the Plainsmen traded up when they brought him in to replace Coach Taylor, particularly since Coach Garner may be hampered by scholarship reductions arising from allegations involving the towel-twirler.
Yes, the Tigers will get their share of Peach State recruits, but that has been true at least since the fallout from the Jan Kemp scandal in the Classic City fueled Pat Dye’s rise in the so-called Loveliest Village. What good did all that talent do the Orange and Blue while they were going 3-9 this season? This brings us to the other aspect of losing a member of the coaching staff: namely, coaching. While recruiting is the lifeblood of the sport, raw talent alone does not ensure success. You need chicken to make chicken salad, but you also need a cook who can follow a recipe.
Like Coach Taylor, Coach Garner is known more for his recruiting prowess than for his coaching acumen, and, frankly, this season, it showed. The Bulldogs’ defensive line, which was expected before the season started to be the certain strength of a team with several question marks and depth issues, turned out to be its most glaring weakness, as the Red and Black surrendered more than 200 rushing yards in five of their last eight games, conceding more than 300 in each of their final three outings. “Coachin’ ‘em up” does not appear to be Coach Garner’s strong suit; the Georgia media guide notes that he has coached four first-round draft choices in the last twelve seasons, but the most recent of those was Johnathan Sullivan, who was taken by the New Orleans Saints in 2003. Coach Garner has been buying the groceries, but what has he contributed to cooking the dinner?
Rodney Garner has been an SEC assistant for 23 years without ever rising above the level of position coach. Mark Richt has hired three defensive coordinators, and Coach Garner does not appear ever to have been considered for that post, in Athens or elsewhere. His titles will be exactly the same at Auburn as they were at Georgia. I have been pleased with the results of Scott Lakatos’s and Kirk Olivadotti’s efforts, so I am confident that Todd Grantham will hire a defensive line coach who represents an upgrade from Rodney Garner.
While I am not glad to see Coach Garner leave, I am encouraged by the fact that Coach Richt does not appear to have put up much of a fight to keep him. I am grateful to Coach Garner for his years of service, and for the class he has shown on his way out the door, but Coach Richt has been preparing for this moment since attempts by rival programs to poach our recruiting coordinator became an annual Christmas tradition.
There is a reason why Rodney Garner was the only member of Jim Donnan’s staff Mark Richt retained twelve years ago, but the world has turned a few times since then. Coach Richt now has a dozen years of familiarity with recruiting the Peach State, and John Lilly, after spending a decade as the recruiting coordinator for the Florida St. Seminoles, has had five years in Athens to become acclimated to filling that role for the Red and Black. Moreover, second-generation Bulldog Bryan McClendon has matured into a fine recruiter at 29, the same age at which Coach Garner was hired away from his alma mater by the Tennessee Volunteers to help them pull prospects out of Atlanta.
I do not begrudge Rodney Garner his decision to return home after “Mama called” and offered to FedEx him a duffel bag full of money for Christmas, and, given the extent to which stability on Mark Richt’s staff has, in recent seasons, produced stagnation, I am less than depressed over the departure of the longest-serving Georgia coach. I wish Coach Garner as well as I am capable of wishing anyone who voluntarily would opt for Auburn over Athens, and I view this as a short-term setback but a long-term benefit for the Red and Black. I am concerned for the moment yet encouraged for the future.