Built by Coach G: Rodney Garner's legacy goes beyond football
Derrick Brown: "He's definitely going to work you hard, and as everybody knows, that's what happens. But at the end of the day, he still treats us like we're his own sons."
Jan. 15, 2018

By Greg Ostendorf

AUBURN, Ala. -- Legacy. It's a word that can be defined as "something that someone has achieved that continues to exist after they stop working." In football, maybe that's a Super Bowl title, a national championship or a Heisman Trophy.

For Rodney Garner, he's built a legacy of first-round draft picks and NFL products as an SEC assistant coach for the past 28 years. You've probably seen the hashtags, "GroomedbyGarner" or "BuiltbyCoachG." At one point while he was the defensive line coach at Georgia, he had four future first-round draft picks in the same room.

It's been no different since Garner returned to Auburn as the defensive line coach in 2013. He's coached players like Dee Ford, Angelo Blackson, Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams who have all heard their names called in the NFL draft and are currently playing at the next level.

However, when it comes to legacy, draft picks and NFL success only scratch the surface.

"I'm proud of the young men I put in the league," Garner said. "Don't get that wrong. But I'm equally proud of the young men that go on to be productive citizens, good husbands, good fathers that are making an impact on this world in a positive way. That's what I want my legacy to be. That I impacted these young men in a positive way."

If you ever have the opportunity to attend one of Auburn's practices, you should be able to spot Garner pretty quickly. If nothing else, you can definitely hear him. He's usually the one yelling and getting after the group of 250- and 300-plus pound defensive linemen. Maybe you've even heard some of the horror stories of his de-recruitment process with the freshmen.

But that's just his way of making his players stronger. It's his way of preparing them for when they will face real adversity later in life. He's hard on them because he loves them.

"I think he's trying to help as many as possible," Auburn defensive lineman Dontavius Russell said. "A lot of things people don't think about in coaching is how many people you impact. You see him yelling on YouTube and stuff like that, but apart from that when we're in meetings, he's trying to really teach us life lessons and help us later on in life."

"He's definitely a person that's going to push you, but yet cares about you," added fellow defensive lineman Derrick Brown. "He's definitely going to work you hard, and as everybody knows, that's what happens. But at the end of the day, he still treats us like we're his own sons."

There's a reason Garner coaches the way he does. He was once that youthful college defensive lineman at Auburn who was pushed to the brink by his coach, Pat Dye. But as grueling as some of those workouts might have been back in the day, he still remains extremely close with Dye and sees the legendary Auburn coach as a second father.

"I always felt that he had a way of putting his arm around us, embracing us and letting us know that he loved us," Garner said. "And he was doing that to make us better -- better husbands, better fathers, better citizens, and obviously better football players.

"I hope I'm making a difference. That's why we do it. I do try to do it in a family approach. I want my players not to just see me as Coach G on the board drawing Xs and Os or Coach G on the field coaching them and directing them. I want them to see me as a husband. I want them to see me as a father. I want them to see me as a man."

That's why Garner treats each of his defensive linemen like they are one of his sons. That and when he leaves the athletic complex at night, he goes home to a house full of women. He and his wife have six children together -- all girls.

"I'd say God's got a great sense of humor," Garner jokes.

But whether it's a five-star recruit like Brown or a walk-on who rarely plays, they're all a part of this family where Garner is simply known as "Pops."

"The love that he shows us. We might not think of it as love," defensive lineman Marlon Davidson said. "It's hard work and hard coaching. But everything he does for us on the field, off the field, he's there for us. He takes us under his wing. He teaches us. He nurtures us to be better men in life."

Every offseason, Garner gets a call from the NFL or another college. It's always somebody gauging his interest in a possible job opening. For the past 20 years, the answer has always been the same.

Except once. Except when Auburn called.

Garner had been at Georgia for 15 years, which is unheard of in this day and age. But when Gus Malzahn called wanting him to return to his alma mater to be the defensive line coach, he couldn't pass up the opportunity. He played at Auburn. He got his first coaching job there. His wife went there. And now his second daughter currently attends school there.

"This is not a place of transition," Garner said. "It's a destination. It's a blessing for me to have an opportunity to come home again.

"I hope that these kids understand that we're blessed to have the opportunity to be at Auburn. Auburn's not blessed because of us. We're blessed because of Auburn. It's a place that if you love -- and I really believe what it says in the Creed -- if you love Auburn, Auburn loves you back. I'm a living witness. It's real."

So the NFL will have to keep waiting, along with other schools. Garner will continue to develop NFL-caliber players on Auburn's defensive line. Between Russell, Brown, Davidson and Jeff Holland, who recently declared early for the draft, all four of the starting defensive linemen from this past season could be playing at the next level within a couple years.

"Coach G always says leave your legacy," Davidson said. "Let people remember you by your name and who you are as a person."

This group will leave quite a legacy at Auburn when it's all said and done. But the legacy Garner wants for his players goes beyond their football talents. He wants people to remember his young men for being more than just good football players.

"I want them to be able to say, `Derrick Brown, Dontavius Russell, Marlon Davidson, those are good men,'" Garner said. "'They're men of character. They're good husbands. They're good fathers. They're good people. They're great football players, but they surpassed that with the other intangible things.'

"So that's what I want my legacy to be, and hopefully it will impact them going forward when they get their families, their wives, their kids, and that they will be able to share some of those things and continue to give that blessing."

Greg Ostendorf is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter:



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