Tennessee’s most important recruit doesn’t have a single star by his name, nor a rating or even a scholarship offer. However, he may be as important as any Vol on the team.
Defensive line coach Rodney Garner is a fiery coach – and in person from what I’ve been told. That’s okay. Football teams need that. Fiery on defense and a bit of finesse on offense can be a scary thing for opposing defenses. Sure, Tennessee can run the football but they’re not going to be confused with Nebraska’s power attack from the 1990’s. Football has changed.
Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel is on the front end of the evolution of rule changes that help offense. The Vols should be good or elite when they have the ball. The defense? Well that hasn’t been so great, which is why Tennessee can’t let Garner slip away. One could argue he’s the most important assistant coach on Tennessee’s staff.
Garner, along with defensive coordinator Tim Banks, both have that fire and intensity; it’s obvious in a press conference or practice. They work well together. That’s why Garner is so important.
Garner gets what Banks is doing and probably loves it. Banks isn’t afraid to put pressure on his defensive backs with multiple blitz packages. In order to do so, Banks has to trust that Garner’s players are in the right gap, especially when they loop around each other in a twist or stunt.
Garner has also proven to be a developer of talent during his time at Tennessee. It’s tough to find a player that didn’t develop under Garner even though some may have transferred, one of which likely did so because he couldn’t handle that fiery nature mentioned above. Well, bye. If you can’t handle a fiery coach in practice, how can you handle an SEC crowd in the fall?
Call them rumors, reports or blogs, but there has been speculation that Garner might return home, to his alma mater at Auburn, who will reportedly lose Jeremy Garrett to the Jacksonville Jaguars. So it makes sense that Auburn would have interest in a solid coach and a great recruiter. While Garner has grown roots in Knoxville, there’s no reason for him not to interview with Auburn. He’s seen the NIL game. Perhaps he can utilize some of those negotiating skills.
Tennessee has treated Garner well, almost doubling his pay from 2021 to 2023. Garner started with the Vols at $550,000. He’s scheduled to make $935,000 this year. What if Auburn offers a million? How high would Tennessee be willing to go.
First, I know that we’re talking Monopoly money. What’s another quarter-million among coaches. However, there also has to be some fiscal responsibility. Of the top 25 highest paid assistant coaches in the nation, all are coordinators. It’s difficult to get above $1-million as just a position coach. Plus, wouldn’t the other defensive coaches garner raises? The Vols’ defense held things together last season. As for Tennessee’s offensive coaches receiving a raise, that wouldn’t be a great look after a disappointing 8-4 season in which the Vols clearly didn’t handle the quarterback situation as well as they could have.
The Vols have a bit of an advantage, however, when it comes to its coaching pay scale. Despite what his title might be, Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel is the offensive coordinator. Sorry Joey Halzle, but it’s true.
Most coordinators at big-time football programs like Tennessee make over $1-million. Halzle, in his first season as offensive coordinator, made $1.2-million. Heupel should take whatever cost of living raise that he had planned for Halzle and shift it towards Garner, whether or not he’s actually interested in Auburn. There’s too much at stake.
Garner is a good position coach, a great recruiter and a leader on Tennessee’s football team. Perhaps pay him more than Halzle, even though he’s a coordinator and Garner is just a position coach?
One would hope Halzle would understand the circumstances. People are calling Garner after last season. I doubt Halzle’s phone is ringing with job offers after Tennessee’s offense lagged, sputtered and nearly broke down at times. Halzle needs to recruit Garner by not expecting a hefty raise during this offseason by easing the budgetary strain and not expecting more than he’s currently worth.