Garner up for grabs... again

ATHENS – For the second time in as many years, Georgia may have to fight to keep Rodney Garner.

Rodney Garner, the Bulldogs' seventh-year defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator, has had contact with the NFL's New Orleans Saints about a coaching position on the staff of new head coach Sean Payton, a Georgia athletic spokesman said Sunday. The news comes just days after Garner helped Georgia haul in a recruiting class ranked in the nation's top five.

Last season, Garner's base salary was raised to $180,000 a year after he canceled an interview with LSU head coach Les Miles. Garner's total compensation is believed to be more than $200,000 annually. He also took on the title of assistant head coach.

All the Bulldogs' assistant coaches are expected to get raises this offseason, athletic director Damon Evans said last week when he approved a new $2 million contract for head coach Mark Richt. Salaries for NFL assistants vary greatly, but when Brian VanGorder left last season to take a position coaching job in pro football, he was paid close to $250,000 a year.

Last year, Richt canceled a trip to coach an all-star game in Hawaii to spend his time convincing Garner to stay. This time, Richt has a captive audience. He, Garner and the rest of the Georgia staff are on a week-long cruise that began Saturday.

Payton already has hired two former Bulldog coaches. Gary Gibbs, who was Georgia's defensive coordinator in 2000, will be the Saints' defensive coordinator; and Doug Marrone, who was Georgia's offensive line coach in 2000, will be New Orleans' offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.

Garner worked with both Gibbs and Marrone in Athens. As of Sunday, the Saints had hired an assistant defensive line coach but not announced the hiring of a defensive line coach.

Garner has coached three defensive tackles who were taken in the first 13 picks of the NFL Draft, including Johnathan Sullivan, who was drafted No. 6 overall by the Saints in 2003. Former Bulldog Charles Grant also is on New Orleans' defensive line.

Garner, the only coach Richt retained from Jim Donnan's staff, is not expected to be off the cruise until Friday. It's unclear how long the Saints will wait to complete their staff.

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