Aug. 11, 2013
Rodney Garner says he doesn't want to leave Auburn again (Todd Van Emst photo)
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. - Standing on the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium, Dameyune Craig can point to the very spots where so many memorable plays happened. It was on that field that he become an Auburn icon, shattering passing records that stand to this day.
But it isn't the big plays or even the wins and losses that Craig remembers most clearly. It's the experience of wearing Auburn blue in that stadium on autumn Saturdays. He'll do it on again on Aug. 31 when Washington State comes to town.
First-year Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn lured Craig back to his alma mater as co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach.>Rodney Garner, another man with a glittering Auburn past, signed on as associate head coach, recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach.
"Every time I walk in the stadium it brings back so many memories," Craig says. "I'm excited about it. I don't know how I'm going to react on game day when I walk down there amongst that crowd. I think we have the best uniforms in the country. I can't wait."
Craig last wore Auburn colors on what is now Pat Dye Field on Nov. 22, 1997, when Auburn beat Alabama 18-17 to win the Southeastern Conference West Division championship.
"We couldn't lose that game," Craig says. "I didn't want to be the first quarterback to lose an Iron Bowl in that stadium, and I was pretty close to doing it. The year before, we lost (25-23 in Birmingham) in heart-breaking fashion. They came in with four wins, but they had a great defense."
Nine years earlier, on Nov. 12, 1988, Garner, an All-SEC offensive guard, played his final game at Jordan-Hare Stadium. He returned as tight ends coach, last walking the Auburn sideline in a stirring 31-27 win over Alabama on Nov. 19, 1995.
After that season, Garner spent three seasons at Tennessee and settled in for 15 seasons at Georgia before heeding Malzahn's call to return.
"I'm totally biased, but I don't think there is a better place than Auburn, period - Jordan-Hare, the town of Auburn, the Auburn family are just awesome," Garner says. "Even though I've only been at two other schools in this conference, I've experienced a lot of different environments and atmospheres and all that. They used to give me a hard time at Georgia. I'd tell them nothing compares to Auburn.
"You really can't describe it, and people think you are making it up, but once they get a chance to experience it they get a chance to see what you are talking about."
Even when he was coaching at other schools and competing against Auburn, Garner says his attachment to his alma mater never wavered.
"It's a very unique experience," Garner says. "I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to come here and for God to bless me with the opportunity to come back here. My challenge is making sure we are doing everything we can to help Auburn get back to the status where it belongs so we can stay here for a long time."
Craig played professionally and coached at LSU, with the Miami Dolphins and at Tuskegee, South Alabama and Florida State before returning to his school and to the town where he'd owned home even when he was coaching elsewhere.
"It's a great opportunity for me," Craig says. "Anybody that ever played here, how can you turn it down? How can you not want to come back here? How can you not want to be back in the stadium wearing those colors?"
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: