Auburn, Ala.--When Auburn’s new assistant head football coach was formally introduced on Friday as a member of Gus Malzahn’s staff, more than a dozen of Rodney Garner’s Auburn teammates from the 1980s returned to the AU campus to see their friend.
Malzahn and Auburn were able to hire Garner away from the University of Georgia, where Garner was the defensive line coach and staff recruiting coordinator. He will handle those same assignments at Auburn.
One of Garner’s close friends and former teammate, Benji Roland, makes it clear that he is more than a little excited about the coach’s return.
“I think it is a great hire bringing some Auburn blood into the program,” the former defensive line star says. “He is a guy who understands Auburn and what it takes to build a championship program.
“Rodney is a great recruiter, a great coach and, bottom line, a great person,” Roland says. “I think he is a tremendous asset to our football program. They made a great choice in hiring Rodney and it will help in getting us back to where we need to be.
“Rodney and I usually talk on a week to week basis,” Roland reveals. “He called me and put out the hint that he wanted to come back home. This is home for Auburn and he loves it.
“He has a lot of mentors here and from more than just football,” Roland points out. “There are people at Auburn who have helped him with personal and family issues throughout his life. He is back home and I think he wants to retire here. Hopefully, the team will have success and he will be able to do it.
“His wife Kim is a graduate of Auburn,” Roland notes. “He is from Leeds and he loves Auburn University. He will do everything in his power to make Auburn the best university in the country.
“I am tickled to death he is back,” Roland says. “When Rodney and I came here we played the same position. Fortunately enough I was able to become the second string noseguard as a freshman and Rodney moved over to (offensive) guard and it was a great move for him.
“We have remained friends over the years and when we talk every week or so it is usually not about football--it is about life, family and friends. It is great to see some of these older players come back here and we love him to death.”
One of the players who welcomed Garner back was a fellow offensive lineman, Rob Selby.
“I think it is great for Auburn,” Selby says of the hire. “He has been very successful at Tennessee and Georgia and he is one of our own, one of the (Pat) Dye guys coming back along with Kimberly and the girls.
“I think Rodney will bring passion to the job,” Selby predicts. “We have had some good coaches here, but it is something different when you have played here and worked here on the field. I?think to come back as a coach there is a little bit of extra passion with Rodney. He is a 100 percent Auburn guy and he is passionate about what he does.”
Another Auburn teammate, former tight end Lee Marke Sellers, agrees with Selby and Roland.
“Rodney and I have had a lot of dialogue the last few weeks and I am really excited for him to come back,” Sellers says. “I know he had previous opportunities to come back, but the timing just wasn’t right.
“From talking to him I could hear it in his voice that this might be the right time for him to return,” Sellers adds. “I am glad and thankful he is back.”
Sellers says he has no doubt that Garner will do a good job coaching the defensive front. “He is a Pat Dye guy and he understands hard work. He understands that we need the blue collar kids who will come into Auburn and get things turned around on the defensive side of the football.
“I think he is a phenomenal assist to the staff and for the players as well,” Sellers says. “I took my kids to his football camps over at Georgia and I saw how he worked with the kids over there and I think he is going to be great for the program.
“I think he is going to bring that swagger back to our defense that we had in the 1980s,” Sellers adds.
Quentin Riggins, who played with Garner at Auburn and is the sideline reporter for the Auburn Radio Network, also gave the hire a big thumbs up.
“I am very excited about having Coach Garner back,” says the former All-SEC linebacker. “He will bring a toughness and intensity like no other. These kids better get ready. He is going to go to work.
“He knows Auburn and he is going to be an outstanding recruiter for Auburn and I can’t wait to see him in action.” Riggins says.