Auburn Takes Hard Look at Garner

ATHENS – The ripple effects of Tommy Tuberville's departure from Auburn reached Athens this week, as Georgia recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach Rodney Garner interviewed for the Tigers' vacant head coaching position.

While the loss of Garner would be a huge blow for the Bulldogs, head coach Mark Richt said he's hoping his assistant lands the job with Auburn.

"I'm definitely rooting for Rodney," Richt said. "What a wonderful opportunity to be considered at your alma mater in the Southeastern Conference at a wonderful program like Auburn. I think it's a tremendous honor for Rodney, and I think it's a great compliment for Georgia, too."

Garner played at Auburn from 1984 through 1988 where he was an All-SEC lineman and later coached there during the early 1990s, but has been one of the Bulldogs' most essential assistants since arriving in Athens from Tennessee in 1998.

Richt said Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs contacted Damon Evans, Georgia's athletics director, last week to ask permission to speak with Garner about the job.

In 2005, Garner was the lead candidate to land the defensive coordinator job at LSU before Richt and Evans intervened, offering Garner a large raise and the title of assistant head coach to remain at

Georgia. That won't happen this time around, Richt said.

"You don't get into any kind of battle," Richt said. "You encourage and try to help in every way. Rodney's been open with me in every opportunity he's ever had, and this one, I'm more of a cheerleader right now. I want him to realize his dream if that's possible."

Garner, who was on the road recruiting Tuesday, has never held a coordinator's position before, but his work in recruiting and his reputation as a strong leader have gained him significant respect in the coaching community.

"He's a guy that knows how to make a player drive themselves," Georgia linebacker Rennie Curran said. "He's kind of like a father. When he yells at you, you feel bad. He really is like a father figure. You feel it when he's angry, and when he's happy, you're gonna know. He's an awesome person to be around."

Richt said that the role of head coach doesn't necessarily require experience as a coordinator anyway. He said the head coach's job is more like a CEO, and Garner's personality makes him an excellent fit for such a role.

Auburn has also interviewed Buffalo's Turner Gill for the job and has reported interest in several big names around the country, including Texas Tech's Mike Leach, Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson and

Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp.

Should Garner land the job, he would become just the fifth black head coach in Division I football, but Richt said he doubted that Garner's race or ties to Auburn made him a token interview by the school.

"I know in this particular case, Rodney is very capable of being a head coach, and I think it's more than them just saying he's a guy from Auburn who happens to be a minority," Richt said. "He's an

Auburn man who has a tremendous reputation as a coach, as a recruiter and as a person – a capable, viable candidate."

Georgia running backs coach Tony Ball could also be heading for a head-coaching job at his alma mater, Chattanooga. Richt said the school contacted him about interviewing Ball for its vacancy, but Ball has yet to interview.

While Richt didn't mention any specific names, he said he has already begun considering possible alternatives in the event that one of his assistants leaves. He said that past vacancies have been quickly filled at Georgia, and the program's strong reputation makes it a popular destination for many excellent candidates.

"I think you have to always have your head on a swivel and be mindful of people out there in the business that are capable of coaching any one of your positions," Richt said. "I think it's just good business practice."

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