Rodney Garner explains the ‘brutal’ coaching style his players are eventually learning to love

It’s always a treat whenever the Tennessee defensive line coach Rodney Garner can talk to the media whether it’s after spring training or during training camp, as was the case Monday after the Vols completed their seventh preseason practice. The veteran assistant coach, in the words of a defensive tackle Omari Thomas, is a “legend” in the profession, such is the long list of NFL draft picks, All-Americans and All-SEC players he recruited and coached during his time at Georgia, Auburn and now Tennessee. . Garner saved his best comments from his last appearance for last, ending his nearly 16-minute session on Monday with a serious explanation of the tough coaching style that has served him so well during his career.

Garner, 56, described his style on the pitch as “aggressive” and “brutal” – and that’s what he said sweetly. Just watching defensive line drills is not for the faint of heart. Garner is both colourful, demanding and direct when calling for corrections, questioning a player or asking for more effort or better technique, and that’s interesting because off the court he’s often referred to as ” cool guy” who loves his players, by all. accounts.

Several Tennessee defensive linemen have said they prefer to be coached the way Garner coaches them, but Tyler Baron last week admitted that it takes time to adapt to it and accept it. The returning cast are used to it by now and have learned to take the message and ignore the tone. Newcomers love freshmen Tire West, Jayson Jenkins and others are still getting a taste for the tough coaching style, which Garner says has a very simple reason.


“As I tried to explain to guys, everything I want from my players, I just want them to be the best version of them,” Garner said. “And obviously when they are at that time, it may not seem that way. I called them today after practice and I’m coaching Tyre, I say something to him out there on the field and he gives you that look like, “Whatever.” I’m like, ‘Man, I just want you to be the best version of you, okay?’ When we get this look here, that’s what we’re supposed to do, right? Am I right? Well, you didn’t, and when we go up there and turn on the movie, you know what? You didn’t.

Rodney Garner (Photo: Calvin Mattheis/Knoxville News Sentinel)

“I think so many times they take it personally, and I try to tell them, I could probably be a little aggressive, I can probably be a little rough. I mean, I’m going to say it in the most But I try to tell them not to take the tone, to get the message. Take this aggression (as) that’s just me wanting to win. It’s just that I want you to get better. Sometimes, at At the end of the day, however, 99% of my guys, they come back and they like me. At that point, they don’t like me, which is kind of like being a parent with your kids. Your kids don’t love you when you raise them, but when they get older they love you and appreciate everything you’ve done for them.

“That’s what we’re hoping it’s going to be the same thing that’s going to happen here – that these guys are going to love me. They’re going to bring their wives and kids back to me and I’m going to play with their kids like they’re my grandkids. That’s what it’s all about, and just letting them know that I want what’s best for them. I want them to be the best version of themselves, so we can be the best version of a Tennessee D-line and then we can be the best version of a Tennessee football team. That’s all I want.”

There are plenty of coaches in college football and at all levels of the game who have similar aggressive styles, and many of them are likely offensive and defensive line coaches. These are the most physically demanding positions on the pitch where tenacity is a requirement. So you have a lot of coaches in charge of these positions who yell a lot, use adult words that we can’t show in the training videos and berate their players.

What sets Garner apart is his work as a coach, and it’s not about who he coached. It’s about his former players at Auburn and Georgia, including the new Pro Football Hall of Famer Richard Seymour, coming to Tennessee games last season to see him. It is Matthew Butler bringing his young daughter to Anderson Training Center last year the week of his final home game so Garner could finally meet her instead of just seeing pictures of her on his phone.

The relationships he builds with his players off the pitch and his credentials as a developer make it easy to buy in even if it takes time.

“Coach Garner is tough, but it’s part of the business,” Baron said last week. “I wouldn’t want to be coached any other way, and I don’t think any guy in the room would. He puts us in the best place, and I mean, the proof is in the pudding. He’s done it for as many years as anyone else in this league, so I’m just telling them all to join in and take his coaching and not necessarily some of his words. He wants the best. for all of us. He loves us all, so we just have to trust Him and allow Him to take us to the promised land.

Byron Young said before the start of camp that Garner was all over him during his first practice last spring. He felt like he couldn’t do anything right and even admitted to having reservations about his coaching job. Garner then told him he was going to be tough on Young, Young accepted that and now he’s grateful for all that Garner has helped him grow ahead of a potential season.

Baron admitted that Garner had preached many of the same things to him over the past 18 months, but it wasn’t until this spring and summer that he began to pick them up and put them into practice. It’s a matter of trust, which is built over time. He acknowledged that it was difficult, but doable.

Just listen to his players.

“It was (difficult to adjust), but the way he coaches, that’s how I want to be coached,” Da’Jon Terry said last week. “He brings out the best in you every day. He’s gonna stay on you, and when he stays on you, you know what that means – he loves you. Just keep going there every day. Even though you might be thinking, “Man, he’s kicking my butt,” you know it’s to get the best out of you.

Said Kurot garland after Monday’s practice: “He’s a cool guy and he’s a real forward-talking person. Every time he says something, instructions or corrections or mistakes that I make, he’s really direct, upfront about it, but he still gets the point across. For me, I feel like I’ve adapted to his lessons and direction.

What helped Thomas adapt to Garner was understanding that the veteran assistant was coaching the game instead of the player, which allowed him to avoid the natural trap of taking it personally, a battle that newcomers from Tennessee always lead.

“You can’t take it and take it to heart, because it’s been in it for a long time. He’s a legend in this field,” Thomas said, “so you have to understand, respect that he knows what he’s talking about and you still have to be coachable. I would say that’s one thing we’re pushing forward as a defensive line, just being able to be coachable. Some of the guys in the room are already coachable, but we bring everyone in knowing he’s not attacking you – he’s just trying to be the best.

“He wants you to be the best player possible.”