Rodney Garner returned Tuesday to the city he called home for the previous 15 years, but the setting was decidedly orange and blue and there were some ‘War Eagle’ chants.
The former Georgia defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator was back in the Classic City to speak to the Greater Athens Auburn Club.
“It’s awesome,” Garner said before the meeting. “It would be better if I could sell my house.”
The gathering was held at Buffalo’s Southwest Cafe, just 2 miles away from Sanford Stadium where Garner had spent fall Saturdays longer than any coach on Georgia’s staff.
Now he’s back at Auburn, where he was an All-SEC lineman in the 1980s. Gus Malzahn hired him to be associate head coach, defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator.
Garner and his wife Kim raised five of their children in Athens: Brielle, Jaiden, Kai, Sydney and Milan. Another daughter, Bridgett, is 27.
The other girls — ages 9 to 16 — made the trip with their father from Alabama, who spoke at a rotary club in Opelika, Ala., earlier in the day.
“They were excited to get back over here,” Garner said. “I know Bri is meeting a couple of her friends (for dinner and a movie). It’s good to be back. I have nothing but great memories of my time in Athens and being part of this staff.”
Garner, who took a Caribbean cruise last week with his family, was planning to stick around for another day in town. He said he was going to try to catch up with offensive line coach Will Friend, who just welcomed a baby to his family.
He also was going to try to clean out his closet in his Bogart home and give some of his Georgia apparel to Thomas Settles, a Georgia team chaplain.
Garner left for his alma mater as Georgia prepared for its bowl game last December.
“It’s been good being back home,” Garner said. “I’m not going to kid you. I think it was just time for me to be able to go back over there and try to get the program back to the status that it belongs. It’s been a lot of work and we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. But it’s enjoyable just because I played there and Kim went to school there. You really have a lot invested in it from that standpoint. So we’re just enjoying every minute of it.”
Pete Chamberlin, the president of the Athens Auburn Club, said there are about 500 people associated with the club and about 75 active members.
“I married a Georgia girl, so that’s why I’m here,” said Chamberlin, a 1981 Auburn graduate who works for a software services company.
He told the crowd that nobody gives him a hard time about being an Auburn fan in Athens, but that’s not true when he crosses the state line into Alabama.
The club holds a barbecue event when Auburn plays in Athens, but Georgia is visiting Jordan-Hare Stadium for the second straight season under the quirks of SEC scheduling.
The club raises money for the Sam Haygood Memorial Scholarship Fund to assist students in the surrounding counties go to Auburn.
There was a crowd of about 50 that came to hear Garner, who broke down the Auburn depth chart and only slipped up once when talking about how a team that went 3-9 last year would play hard and be disciplined this year.
“When you come in Sanford Stadium … I mean to Jordan-Hare Stadium,” he said correcting himself. “You better be ready to suit it up.”
Julianna Cook, who went to Oconee County High School and was a member of Auburn’s national champion equestrian team, told the crowd about the experience of being the last team to roll Toomer’s Corner. Garner said he rolled it for the first time after the A-Day game.
Garner’s got another speaking engagement Thursday at the Griffin Auburn Club.
“There’s really no summers anymore,” Garner said. “We got back from the cruise Saturday night and had three kids in Sunday (on unofficial recruiting visits). There were kids in yesterday. It’s sort of crazy right now.”
Garner spoke highly of the man who replaced him as defensive line coach for the Bulldogs.
“Chris Wilson I think is one of the best coaches in the country,” Garner said. “I think he will do an outstanding job developing those guys and getting them to play probably above their maturity level at an early stage.”