Garner: I have a great job

ATHENS – Rodney Garner is not at the NCAA's coaches convention in San Antonio, Texas, this week, and it's not because the most stressful four weeks of his year are about to begin.

The annual meetings are the traditional meet-and-greet places for assistant coaches with an eye on the next job. Garner, Georgia's ninth-year recruiting coordinator, has gone before and has flirted with other schools during his time at Georgia, most recently with LSU after last season.

But things are beginning to change, Garner said. With six daughters, including five under the age of 9, his priorities are beginning to shift. He didn't go to the convention this year, he said, because it would have taken him away from his family near a time when he's going to be away from home enough.

Slowly, Garner said, the next job isn't starting to look as appealing as this job.

"I'm not that open to just jumping into any situation," Garner said. "Obviously, I would like to be a head coach. I am not going to deny that, but I think there are going to be some boundaries and situations that I don't want to subject my family to. I guess I've grown to realize the grass isn't always greener. I have a great job. I work for a great guy. In this profession, it's hard to have both of those."

Garner was Richt's first and most important hire in the weeks after Richt was named the Bulldogs head coach in 2001, but the connection almost didn't happen. At first, Garner was very wary about being the only coach retained from Jim Donnan's staff.

"I've been a holdover once, and it wasn't a good experience," Garner said.

That came when Pat Dye left Auburn and was replaced by Terry Bowden, the son of Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, Richt's former boss. That Garner and Terry Bowden had a bad relationship is no secret.

"I was skeptical about it, and with Coach Richt having a Bowden background, I was really skeptical about it," Garner said.

Garner and Richt discussed the subject, but Garner won't reveal details of that conversation.

"I shared my concerns and my experiences that I had gone through," Garner said, "and he assured me that it wasn't going to be like that here."

It hasn't been, and the relationship has been a boon for both parties. The Bulldogs reap perhaps their biggest reward from having Garner on staff this time of year. National Signing Day is February 7, and the Bulldogs' projected class of 2007 ranks 12th in the country, according to Scout.com, which bases its opinion on non-binding verbal commitments.

Georgia has been a national player in recruiting since Garner arrived, and that's no coincidence, said Allen Wallace, a national editor for Scout.com and the publisher of SuperPrep magazine.

"When Rodney's name comes up, that means that Georgia has a good shot at getting whoever it is that people are talking about," Wallace said.

This next month is crunch time for recruiting coordinators. At no time does the balance between their on-field duties, in the case of Garner the defensive line, and the recruiting responsibilities get more cumbersome than the crossover between January and February. Starting Sunday, all of Georgia's coaches will be allowed to get back on the road visiting prospective players, but the work that has gone into this final push spans the calendar for Garner.

"It's always there," Wallace said. "There's always another call to make; there's always another evaluation to make; there's always a new kid to check out. I think the regular on-the-field coaching has got to be just more of a pleasure where the task of recruiting is just piled on top of that and requires an enormous amount of work."

Garner, who worked at both Auburn and Tennessee before coming to Athens, credits his secretary Connie Connelly with keeping the day-to-day recruiting operation running.

"If I didn't have her in that role, it would definitely be a stretch for me," he said. "It's a lot. It can be overwhelming."

It's Garner, though, who has what Wallace describes as that indefinable recruiting magic.

"It's hard to teach people to be good recruiters," Wallace said. "You could put out a recruiting manual, but it's kind of like expecting all those people who go to those seminars about being great salesmen to be great salesmen. It's one of those things that easy to say but some people can't do it nearly as well as others. Rodney Garner is one of those people who can do it really well."

Garner also compares the job to that of any salesman.

"The No. 1 fact is having a great product," he said. "It's about building relationships with people. If you treat people fairly and you're up front, your reputation precedes you. The University of Georgia is an easy product to sell. I've worked at three great institutions that were really easy to sell.

"If I worked as a lesser program, you could tell if I was really good or not."


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