Dec. 21, 2012
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn
“I said I was going to take my time and hire the right guy for each position that has the right character, a great coach, a great recruiter. We hired one of the best in the business right here in Rodney Garner. He’s an Auburn man. You can see his teammates are here, a very special moment right now. He’s going to be our defensive line coach. He’s going to be our assistant head coach and our recruiting coordinator. I’m very excited about Rodney, so I’m going to welcome him right now. Rodney Garner.”
Rodney Garner, defensive line and assistant head coach
“Thank you. War Eagle. I can tell you this is a very surreal moment for me just to have this opportunity to be back here at a place that has meant so much to my life both personally and professionally. As I look back on my career, I know I wouldn’t be in the position that I’m in today if it wasn’t for Auburn University.
This place is very special and very dear to me. Just out here and seeing my teammates that are here, I don’t know, it’s a humbling experience. I was telling my wife when we were flying out this morning, I was just thinking about my dad. I lost my dad on May 17, 2009, and my teammates, they know what a big Auburn fan he was. Mr. Earl, he loved Auburn. He’d come down here and tailgate all the time. I know he’s riding around Heaven today in his blue truck with his Auburn flags flowing, tooting his horn yelling ‘War Eagle,’ and messing with all the Alabama fans up there and making them mad. I know it would be a very proud moment for him to see me get here.
Coming from Leeds, Ala., I never thought I would be in this position. I just feel blessed. I’ve been gone from here 17 years. I was telling Jay (Jacobs) that today. This is the first time I’ve been in this building in 17 years, 17 long years. Me and my wife, we tried to make it a conscientious effort to come to Auburn at least twice a year and bring our girls here just to show them where I lived in Sewell Hall, which they tore down the old Sewell Hall, and I used to tell all the old war stories, and they’re building this Taj Mahal.
We’d take them up to the Hill dorms, Dorm J, and show them where their mom lived. We always talked about our goal in life, if we were blessed, was to have our kids go to Auburn. No matter where I was coaching, I really wanted my children to go to Auburn. I wanted that legacy to continue. We’ve been on this campus, and it’s ironic, my girls actually got the opportunity to go to their first Auburn game this year in Jordan-Hare Stadium. Kim brought the girls over this year, and they went to the first game. It’s been good.
I was at the University of Georgia for 15 years and at Tennessee prior to that for two years. I had the opportunity to work for some great coaches. Coach (Pat) Dye, who I look to as a second father. I know it takes my wife to tell this story just to tell you how important Coach Dye was. In my house, and in my grandparents’ house and in Leeds, Alabama, when you go to an African American home, you look on the mantel, you can tell. You usually have a picture of Jesus. You have a picture of Martin Luther King. Then in the middle, you have Pat Dye. Sitting in my grandmother’s house, he was up there with Jesus and Martin Luther King, there was Pat Dye. He was in some heavy company. He has definitely meant a lot to me. I definitely love Coach Dye. I think every one of these young men would tell you that. I think he helped make us the men that we are today, and we are very appreciative of that for what he did and all the coaches and all the people that mold us.
When I had the opportunity to come back here, it was just an opportunity for me to give back to something that I feel has given me so much. I have another friend of mine, we were talking about this the other day, because I’ve been in some serious counseling in trying to come to this decision and wrestling with it and what to do. I was talking to a good friend of mine, and I said, ‘You know what? I pull for Auburn 364 days a year. It’s just that one day when we play them that’s the only time I don’t pull for Auburn.’ He said, ‘To be honest Coach G, you pull for Auburn 364 days and 20 hours. It’s just the four hours that y’all are playing that you aren’t.’ I was like, ‘You know, you’re right. That’s true.’ That’s one thing I always said.
I’m an Auburn man. I think everybody in this room would sit there and tell you they’re Auburn men. When I left here before, I said I may not coach at Auburn, but I’ll always be an Auburn man. I paid the price to do that, and my blood, sweat and tears are out there in Jordan-Hare Stadium. We’re the reason why now the NCAA has the 20-hour work week and all that because of what Coach Dye put us through. We paid a significant price. I’m so excited about having the opportunity to come back to Auburn and try to teach these young men about what it is to be an Auburn man because an Auburn man is a special man. It is an unreal fraternity. It’s a very real fraternity. All my brothers, whether I saw them last week or 10 years ago, we have the same love for one another as we had when we played here back in the 80s. It’s just an honor, and I’m just so humbled by this opportunity.
I can’t wait to roll my sleeves up and go to work. When I talked to Coach Malzahn, I just told him, I said, ‘Hey Coach, if you feel that I can be an asset to you, and I can help you in your mission statement and your vision of where you want to take this great institution, then I would love the opportunity to be a part of it.’ That’s what I want. I want a part. I just want to be on the team. I’m going to be the most loyal team member that he has. I’m going to work every day. I bleed orange and blue. When I tell a kid what it means to be an Auburn man, it’s coming from the heart. It means so much to me and my family.
My girls, they’re a little different. They know what Auburn is. They knew that their dad and their mom wanted them to go to Auburn. They’ve been in Georgia so long, we have to transition them a little bit. I have a 10th grader that she’s going to be a junior. To be honest with you, for some reason, God blessed me with all girls. I don’t know, I thought I was a pretty good guy when I was in college. I guess that might be up for some debate right now, but I’ve got six daughters. They can be quite difficult. I can handle my players really easy. I don’t take anything. I just say, ‘This is what it is. We’re going to do it. Suck it up and let’s go.’ My 10-year-old this morning, she’s crying, and I’m sitting there trying to counsel her and talk her. I said, ‘Hey baby, it’s going to be all right. You can go recruiting with Daddy. Remember when you went with me to recruit Big John Jenkins? You’re the reason that I got Big John because I went on that trip. Don’t you want to go with me and get another Big John?’ ‘No, I don’t want to go.’ ‘You don’t want Daddy to have another Big John?’ ‘No, I don’t want to go.’ ‘Aw, come on, Kai.’ Now I’m trying to recruit my kids along with trying to recruit for Auburn.
I’ll tell you what. We’re going to do it with great enthusiasm. We’re going to have fun. We’re committed to getting this thing where it’s supposed to be. Auburn is an elite institution. It always has been, and it will always be. I know we’ve stumbled a little bit here lately, but we’re going to get this thing back on track. I’m excited about the staff that Coach Malzahn is putting together. It’s a bunch of great men. I’m excited about the chemistry, and I’m looking forward to working together. I’m just so proud to be a part of this.”
On the timing and coming back to Auburn this season…
“I’ve had opportunities, and I know I had probably gotten the label that I would never leave Georgia, and I probably wouldn’t leave Georgia if it wasn’t for Auburn. I work for a man at the University of Georgia by the name of Mark Richt, who I have a tremendous amount of respect for. For us to be able to win at the level that we did, doing it the way we did it, I just have so much respect for him. He’s a man of integrity, a man of character. He cares about those young men, but he’s still tough enough to coach them and have them be competitive and compete in this conference. Athens is a great place. I’ve always talked about Athens and Auburn are so similar. The cities are so much alike. The schools are so much alike. I think they’re called sister schools when people refer to them. It was a difficult decision. It was one that we talked about, and we prayed about. We just felt led that it was time. Auburn was calling me home. It felt like it was a time of need. I’m not trying to toot my own horn or saying that I’m the answer to anything, but it was just a time that I felt that I could go back and help my school in a way that I think my school has helped me. If I can make any type of contributions along those lines then I felt led to do that. That was the main reason. Kim’s an Auburn grad, so we were all on one page, one accord. We knew it was time, and we’re just excited about it.”
On his relationship with Coach Ellis Johnson and Charlie Harbison…
“I’m excited I’m going to be honest with you. I have a lot of respect for Coach Johnson. I’ve never worked with Coach Johnson. I’ve always admired his work from afar, but always had a good relationship with him. In fact, he was in line for the job at Georgia prior to Coach Todd Grantham getting it, so we had a lot of dialogue and a lot of conversation going on between us during that time, and just over the course of my career my cousin he played for him at Southern Miss, so I got to know Coach Johnson and just have a lot of respect for him and then I’ve had a couple of other buddies who actually worked with him, and they talk about what a great football mind Ellis has and how tough he is, but he is fair and the kids love playing for him.
It’s the same things that I like, and then Cheese, Charlie, we call him Cheese, the same thing I’ve never worked with Cheese, but just running into him on the road recruiting just admiring his work knowing that his kids play hard. They are fundamentally sound. He is a disciplinarian. He does all of those things the right way, so when I had the opportunity to go into that room and work with those men and then be under the leadership of Coach Malzahn, it was a no brainer for me because I am leaving a great situation and that was a tough thing.
I met with Coach Richt this morning and met with Coach Grantham again this morning. The chemistry that we had on our staff it was unreal. I did an interview on the way out the door. One of the reporters was saying, ‘You know those blogs are saying that you are leaving because there is a rift with you and Coach Grantham.’ I am saying, ‘There are no rifts on our staff.’ I have the most respect for Coach Grantham. We sat down and we were hugging and talking, not that we are touchy feely people now, we are not that, but he was just like ‘Hey G, I really enjoyed working with you.’ I said, ‘Coach, I loved working with you. He said if I ever have the opportunity I will hire you again. I said, ‘Coach, I will work for you again in a heartbeat.’ It’s that kind of thing, so it was great chemistry and leaving those kids because I had to talk to I had a chance to address the defense this morning in the team meeting room just like this, and that was a tough situation. Like I told them, I wouldn’t be standing before you making this type of statement to go to any other institution.
I remember when Sean Payton got the job at the New Orleans Saints. He came and tried to hire me, and I didn’t want to coach in pro ball at that time, but it was after Katrina and all that, but I just always came back and knew I didn’t want to leave those kids and as difficult as it was this morning to stand up there and tell them that I was leaving at the same time it felt so good knowing I was leaving Georgia but coming to Auburn, and I’m coming home, and this is not a stopover.
My goal is to be here and finish out my career and not that I want to get somewhere and be complacent because that’s not it. I want to win championships. I want us to be competing for the Western division championship, competing for the SEC championship, competing for the national championship and doing it on a consistent basis, not just being a one-year wonder. I want to be able for Coach Malzahn to be able to be judged on his body of work just like I feel Coach Richt’s body of work, and when I met with him I saw a lot of the same characteristics in him that I saw in Coach Richt, and I was telling somebody. They were asking, ‘What do you think?’ I said I really like him. I talked to Benji (Roland). I was like, ‘Benji’ He was like what do you think?” I said I like him. I really like him. I like the look in his eyes. I think he is tough. I think he is a competitor and I said, ‘He has a plan.’ I said, ‘I don’t know if it is going to work out for me to go there or not, but whatever it is we’ve got to embrace him. We’ve got to get behind him,’ and that’s what I told him. Whether I come to Auburn or not, I want you to know the lettermen we’re behind you. We are going to embrace you. We are going to everything we can to help Auburn get back to the status that it belongs.”
On what Auburn needs to do to get back to competing at a high level quickly…
“I haven’t had an opportunity to evaluate Auburn and where there at on that. My thing I was more focused at Georgia when I was there. All I know is we are going to go to work. We are going to recruit the caliber of student-athletes that we feel give us the best chance to win championships and doing it the right way with discipline, integrity and instilling in them a pride, a toughness, a competitiveness that we are going to do this over and over and over and over and over and over. That we are just going to create habits. I know that is what coach wants, and that’s what he shared with me and building consistency, but I haven’t had an opportunity to study the personnel. I don’t know any of the issues. I was dealing with my own issues, my own problems. We’ve all got them. It’s just some are more public than others, but I know Auburn. We are going to work hard. We are going to get going immediately.”
On if he thinks working with Brian VanGorder and Willie Martinez will help his transition…
“Obviously, Coach Johnson’s system will probably be a little bit different than what Coach VanGorder did in terminology and different things, so we’ve got to sell these young men on buying into our system. Whatever it is Coach Johnson wants to do, we’ve got to get our guys believing and knowing that whatever he draws up on the board it can work and it has been proven to work. I think when you look at Coach Johnson his body of work is impressive. He’s got an impressive resume of what he has been able to do at a lot of different stops, and I don’t think it will take long when he walks in this room in front of those kids and when he gets to talking to them they will know they’ve got a great coach, a great football mind, a guy that knows what he is doing that is going to be passionate about football, passionate about making sure that they are prepared every Saturday to go out there and compete and win games.”
On being used to the 3-4 and 4-3 schemes…
“I have been blessed. During my 15 years at Georgia we were a 4-3 for 12 of them, and then under Coach Grantham, we switched to a 3-4 as our base. We also went to a nickel and dime and were more of a 4-3. There are pluses and minuses to everything. We just have to find, schematically, what our personnel allows us to be at a high level. I just think we have to have multiple now because of the different personnel that you are going to see with the offenses. It is all based on personnel. You are always trying to match up. When they put an extra receiver out there you are trying to put an extra back out there. It is all based on what you are going to see. In the SEC, it is so multiple with the offenses. You have to be able to blend and do what gives your kids the best chance to be successful on Saturdays.”
On having experience in the SEC…
“Let’s not kid ourselves. I know I am biased, but the SEC is the best league out there. Week in and week out, you are not going to sneak up on anybody. You have to bring your A game every week. We have the mindset of what it takes to be in this league. I think it is an advantage over to someone who is just coming into it. The thing about Coach Johnson and Charlie, and the other guys that Coach (Malzahn) is going to fill this staff up with, is going to be very competent men. They are going to be men of character. They are going to be competitors. I feel like we are going to compete at the highest level. That is our goal every single day. When we come into this building, it is every day. It is about what we have to do to get Auburn closer to winning championships and graduating our student-athletes.”
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn
On Coach Garner’s enthusiasm…
“I think it is very beneficial. He is an Auburn man. He has been here. He has done that. He takes great pride, and talking with him got me excited. I know how special this place is. He is going to be a great example for players. He is a former player that has been successful and helped make him into the man he is today. I think that is great for our players and will be a great asset for us.”
On hiring one more defensive assistant…
“We have one more spot. We are putting the pieces to the puzzle, one by one. I think it is very important that we get the right fit. When we hired Coach Johnson, I wanted him to have some ownership in the positions. We are closing to filling the defensive positions. We will keep all those factors in mind.”
On being consistent while also teaching fundamentals…
“I think they go together, fundamentals, intangibles and work ethic. That is what Coach Garner has. He has been successful. He comes in right off the bat and our defensive linemen are going to know that he has done it at a high level. He has been a successful coach and player.”
On the possibility of hiring another defensive backs coach…
“We have a little flexibility there. We are trying to find the right fit. We are trying to get that done in the near future. Right now, Coach Johnson is trying to figure out what is the best fit. We do have one left on the defensive side.”
On the transfer of Christian Westerman…
“We did release Christian, and we wish him nothing but the best.”
On talking with Corey Lemonier about leaving for the NFL Draft…
“I had some conversations with Corey, and we will have some more. We will figure out what is best for his future once we get all the factual information.”
On the recruiting process…
“There have been a lot of good conversations. I was very familiar with the offensive recruits. The defensive recruits have been waiting on who their coaches are and try and develop those relationships. We are still in that relationship-building mode right now.”