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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Tuesday Practice Notes (12/9)

The ripple effects of Tommy Tuberville's departure from Auburn reached Athens this week, as Georgia recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach Rodney Garner interviewed for the Tigers' vacant head coaching position.

While the loss of Garner would be a huge blow for the Bulldogs, head coach Mark Richt said he's hoping his assistant lands the job with Auburn.

"I'm definitely rooting for Rodney," Richt said. "What a wonderful opportunity to be considered at your alma mater in the Southeastern Conference at a wonderful program like Auburn. I think it's a tremendous honor for Rodney, and I think it's a great compliment for Georgia, too."

Garner played at Auburn from 1984 through 1988 where he was an All-SEC lineman and later coached there during the early 1990s, but has been one of the Bulldogs' most essential assistants since arriving in Athens from Tennessee in 1998.

Richt said Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs contacted Damon Evans, Georgia's athletics director, last week to ask permission to speak with Garner about the job.

In 2005, Garner was the lead candidate to land the defensive coordinator job at LSU before Richt and Evans intervened, offering Garner a large raise and the title of assistant head coach to remain at Georgia. That won't happen this time around, Richt said.

"You don't get into any kind of battle," Richt said. "You encourage and try to help in every way. Rodney's been open with me in every opportunity he's ever had, and this one, I'm more of a cheerleader right now. I want him to realize his dream if that's possible."

Garner, who was on the road recruiting Tuesday, has never held a coordinator's position before, but his work in recruiting and his reputation as a strong leader have gained him significant respect in the coaching community.

"He's a guy that knows how to make a player drive themselves," Georgia linebacker Rennie Curran said. "He's kind of like a father. When he yells at you, you feel bad. He really is like a father figure. You feel it when he's angry, and when he's happy, you're gonna know. He's an awesome person to be around."

Richt said that the role of head coach doesn't necessarily require experience as a coordinator anyway. He said the head coach's job is more like a CEO, and Garner's personality makes him an excellent fit for such a role.

"I think today people understand that the head coach doesn't necessarily have to be a coordinator," Richt said. "Now he's been a recruiting coordinator, but I think that at one time that was more important than it is today. I don't see it being as important. Head coaches nowadays are more of a CEO in nature, and if you hire the right people to coordinate your offense and defense, you can do extremely well."

-- Auburn has also interviewed Buffalo's Turner Gill for the job and has reported interest in several big names around the country, including Texas Tech's Mike Leach, Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson and Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp.

Should Garner land the job, he would become just the fifth black head coach in Division I
football, but Richt said he doubted that Garner's race or ties to Auburn made him a token interview by the school.

"I know in this particular case, Rodney is very capable of being a head coach, and I think it's more than them just saying he's a guy from Auburn who happens to be a minority," Richt said. "He's an Auburn man who has a tremendous reputation as a coach, as a recruiter and as a person a capable, viable candidate."

-- Georgia running backs coach Tony Ball could also be heading for a head-coaching job at his alma mater, Chattanooga. Richt said the school contacted him about interviewing Ball for its vacancy, but Ball has yet to interview.

-- While Richt didn't mention any specific names, he said he has already begun considering possible alternatives in the event that one of his assistants leaves. He said that past vacancies have been quickly filled at Georgia, and the program's strong reputation makes it a popular destination for many excellent candidates.

"I think you have to always have your head on a swivel and be mindful of people out there in the business that are capable of coaching any one of your positions," Richt said. "I think it's just good business practice."

-- Six Georgia players made the coaches' All-SEC team, which was announced Tuesday.
Running back Knowshon Moreno was a unanimous selection to the team, one day after earning a similar honor from the Associated Press. Linebacker Rennie Curran and wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi also earned first-team nods.

"It's always great to get some recognition, but it was a team effort," said Massaquoi, who has 910 receiving yards and eight touchdowns this season. "I'm just real happy."

Massaquoi's fellow receiver, A.J. Green, earned a second-team nod from the coaches after making the AP's first-team roster Monday. Quarterback Matthew Stafford and punter Brian Mimbs also earned second-team honors from the coaches.

Curran learned of the honor after completing practice Tuesday and said he was humbled to be mentioned among the other top linebackers in the conference.

"It's crazy to even think about I'm only a sophomore, and I feel like I've still got a million things to work on and a lot of strides to make," Curran said. "It's definitely a tribute to the hard work and the extra time in the film room and the extra plates in the weight room and everything like that. It feels good."

-- While Moreno has already locked up two All-SEC honors, he could add some national hardware to his collection Thursday when the winners of the annual Doak Walker award are announced in Orlando, Fla.

Moreno, who has 1,338 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground this season, is one of three finalists for the award, which is given each year to the nation's top running back. Iowa's Shonn Green and Michigan State's Javon Ringer are the other finalists.

"I'm definitely excited just to be out there in the top three," Moreno said. "It's an awesome time to get out there, have a good time, and we'll see what happens."

Ringer is not only Moreno's competition for the Doak Walker award, but the two will also face off in the Capital One Bowl on Jan. 1. Moreno, however, said he won't be doing any early scouting of his future opponent at the awards ceremony.

"It's just a time to enjoy it and have a good time with all the guys that are going to be there."

-- Fullback Brannan Southerland was in a green non-contact jersey during Tuesday's abbreviated practice, and head coach Mark Richt said the senior isn't likely to participate in a full practice until the team heads to Orlando on Dec. 26.

Southerland missed Georgia's first four games with a foot injury, which required two offseason surgeries, but is currently suffering from a sore knee that is not related to the previous injury.

"He might practice before we leave town," Richt said, "but more than likely he won't be full speed until we get (to Orlando)."

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