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AUBURN — There is a softer side to Rodney Garner. No, seriously, there really is.
Beneath the imposing presence and bear-like ferocity, the yelling and hollering, all the commands and demands he makes of his players, the Auburn defensive line coach is a warm, loving man to his wife, Kimberly, and six daughters.
“My wife said God knew I couldn’t handle boys. I wanted a son so bad, but he gave me all girls,” Garner said. “He knew that I might have been too hard on boys. So those girls, she thinks I’m too soft. I need that though to get me back even keel. I really need that and I need my boys, my players, to see me with my girls and interact with me with my girls and let them know I ain’t this devil that they think I am.
“There is a caring and good side to it. I definitely think that’s my balancing act, for them to see that and see coach G in a different light. I think God definitely knew what he was doing.”
It’s nearly as common to see Garner surrounded by his daughters, Bridgett, Brielle, Jaiden, Kai, Sydney and Milan, at the Auburn Athletic Center as it is to hear him barking orders to his linemen on the practice fields.
“I need them around to get the edge off of me,” he said. “I mean, I really do need that.”
The “edge” is what Auburn coach Gus Malzahn has wanted the Tigers to get back as they prepare for the 2013 season.
Though he coached at Georgia for the past 15 years, Garner is an Auburn man. The 1988 All-SEC offensive lineman took no pleasure in watching his alma mater get kicked around in 2012, and he is on a mission to ensure his defensive line will return to the glory of Auburn’s past.
“I didn’t like what they experienced last year,” Garner said. “Because whether you’re actually going through it or not, if you’re an Auburn person, you do experience it, and even though I was at a rival school, it still hurt me to watch my school have the struggles that it did last year.
“We’re going to do everything in our power to change that, and the only way I know how to do it is through hard work. Not taking shortcuts. Being disciplined, being fundamental, being tough.”