After 15 years with the University of Georgia, Rodney Garner’s heart led him back home.
The former recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach for the Bulldogs returned to Auburn, his alma mater, in late December to join the Tigers in the same capacity. Garner drove from Auburn to Cumming on Wednesday to share his take on recruiting with the Rotary Club of South Forsyth.
Rotarian Jim Otwell of Andean Chevrolet scheduled Garner as a guest speaker while he was still at Georgia, and the recruiting coordinator honored the committment in spite of his move.
Garner played at Auburn from 1984-88 under coach Pat Dye and earned honorable mention All-America and All-SEC recognition his senior year.
"It was tough leaving Georgia," said Garner, who was named a Rivals.com Top 25 recruiter. "All of my kids are Georgia [fans], so that made it harder. I had a ‘G’ on my chest but ‘AU’ in my heart.
"Auburn was in a time of need and needed me. I needed to give something back to my program that I had a vested stake in."
Garner guided Georgia to Top-15 recruiting classes each year since 2006, when grading incoming classes began by ESPN. The Bulldogs finished the recruiting season ranked 10th, while Auburn earned 11th place.
Garner played a large role in landing five-star defensive tackle Montravius Adams and four-star defensive end Elijah Daniel for Auburn. He said that while other recruiters sometimes use negative pitches and promise playing time, he recruits players for the school and not the current head coach.
"I don’t do negative recruiting," Garner said. "I try to sell the school – that’s the most important decision for these young kids. They’re going to spend the next four to five years of their lives there, so they need to enjoy where they will be."
While some high-profile recruits have multiple caps on a table before choosing one or have an elaborate scheme to reveal their school of choice, Garner prefers a simple signing session.
"[Signing day] isn’t about switching hats and ripping off shirts," Garner said. "We need to get back to where our word means something. A commitment should be a commitment."
His hardest sales pitch may be to Brielle, his 15-year-old daughter. Garner joked that although he’s known as a great recruiter; his daughter has been the toughest to sway.
"[Auburn was] sending the school plane over to fly me and my wife over for the press conference and I go in [Brielle’s] room," Garner said. "I go in to kiss her and tell her I’m about to go and she’s wrapped up in her Georgia Snuggie and has her Georgia throw.
"She still wears her Georgia Snuggie. I told her I can get her another one, but she said she’s fine and doesn’t want another one."