Garner: 'I can accomplish all my goals at Georgia'

ATHENS – University of Georgia officials went into full crisis mode this weekend when it looked like assistant football coach Rodney Garner might be heading for another job at LSU.

Head football coach Mark Richt canceled a week-long trip to Hawaii to coach the Hula Bowl. Athletic director Damon Evans called Rodney Garner from China. Even school president Michael Adams got involved from London, getting on the phone to sign off on the final inducements to keep Garner in town.

And it all worked. Garner decided Tuesday afternoon to pull himself out of consideration for a potential job with new Tigers coach Les Miles. Garner had been scheduled to get on a plane and fly to Baton Rouge on Tuesday night.

"It's been a tough few days, but me and my wife we prayed about it, we talked about it and we really feel like this is the place we should be," said the Bulldogs' defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator. "This was a situation that was attractive for a lot of reasons, but we've made the decision that the best thing for me and my family is to be at the University of Georgia."

Garner stressed that the timing of his flirtation had nothing to do with the fact that Willie Martinez was promoted to defensive coordinator last week when Brian VanGorder left to take a job in the NFL.

"I think it had more to do with bad timing so it may have appeared it was a lack of comfort (on my part), but that was never the case," he said. "Coach Richt has been very good to me and my family. He's a pleasure to work for. I talked to Willie about it to let him know that it had nothing to do with him. It just happened that everything happened at the same time. I'm 100 percent committed to Coach Richt and Coach Martinez.

"I feel like I can accomplish all my goals and dreams at the University of Georgia."

Garner, who said he and Miles never discussed specifics of what his job might be at LSU, was given a raise to stay in Athens. Richt would not say if he was also given an elevation in title or a multi-year contract..

The raise is something "we were already in the process of doing," Richt said. "It just escalated with the thoughts of losing him. We turned it up a little more to let Rodney know what he meant to this program."

Richt declined to discuss the amount of Garner's new deal but said all terms had been agreed to by Garner, Evans and Adams. Garner already was one of the highest-paid members of the coaching staff, making $155,000 a year. That total was the third-highest among football assistant coaches before VanGorder left.

"I've said many times, Coach Richt, the administration, everyone has been very good to me and my family in the seven years I've been here," Garner said. "It wasn't like we were looking for a reason to leave.. It would have had to be something pretty special to pull me away."

Garner's loss would have been a huge blow to the Bulldogs. As a defensive line coach, he has tutored three first-round NFL draft picks in the last four seasons. As importantly, he has long been considered one of the top five recruiters in the Southeast, and national signing day is only two weeks away.

"This guy has got a lot more on the ball than most anybody I've been around. I can tell you that Coach Garner staying here at this moment is huge for this recruiting class, but it goes way beyond that. We could survive losing a couple of kids if that were to happen, but him not being here (to be part of the overall program) we would have certainly felt it for some time."

Garner has been at Georgia since 1998. He was the only member of former coach Jim Donnan who Richt retrained when he was hired in the final days of 2000. He would have been the third assistant coach to leave in seven days, following VanGorder and running backs coach Ken Rucker.

"When you lose people you love, it makes it tough, but it turns out to be opportunity for guys like (new hires) John Jancek and Kirby Smar. I'm just glad I'm not going to have to find another guy to give an opportunity to."

There's one downside, though.

"Rodney's the reason I didn't go to Hawaii so he owes me a trip to Hawaii," Richt said, "but it was well worth it."

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