Editor's note: This is the fifth of a 10-part summer series rating the top D-I college football coaches in the country. From position coaches to head coach, Dennis Dodd and you, the community, will compile an All-Star team of the nation's top 10 coaches. Next up: Offensive line. Vote now!
Rodney Garner, Georgia
ATHENS, Ga. -- Six months ago, underdog Hawaii traveled halfway around the world to play Georgia in the symbolic cradle of SEC power -- the Sugar Bowl. It was Rodney Garner's job to convince his defensive linemen that the game was going to be anything but a piece of poi for the Bulldogs.
|Tight End Coaches|
|Wide Receivers Coaches|
|Running Backs Coaches|
|Defensive Line Coaches|
|Offensive Line Coaches|
"I told my guys, I don't know if you all are tough enough," Georgia's defensive line coach said. "They're going to put that war paint on. They don't care. Those (Hawaii) kids thrived on intimidation. I'm sure our kids got tired of hearing that."
You might say that. Four hours later, Hawaii's dream season was, well, a dream and Colt Brennan's livelihood, if not damaged, was altered. Consider that everybody's favorite island quarterback not only was knocked down, he was knocked down in the draft. Brennan literally went from hot draft property to sixth-round pick, largely because of the treatment from Garner's defensive line. The Junkyard Dawgs went old school in harassing the Heisman finalist. Brennan was sacked eight times, suffered three interceptions and basically never had time to set his feet.
"The SEC is probably the fastest conference in all of college football, and we got a first-hand taste of that tonight," Brennan said after the final college game of his career.
Garner helped make it that way. The 41-year-old is at the pinnacle of his career. The Bulldogs are a trendy pick for preseason No. 1 based largely on a dominating second-half defensive performance in 2007. Georgia's defense led the SEC with 42 sacks last season. Defensive end Marcus Howard became the Sugar Bowl's first defensive MVP in almost 30 years. All-SEC defensive tackle Geno Atkins might be the next great one produced by Garner, who is entering his 11th season coaching Georgia's defensive line.
|By the slimmest of margains, UNC's John Blake is the user pick on the DL. (Provided to CBSSports.com)|
The native son of the SEC has been around the conference every year but two since 1984. Since 1998 he has coached the defensive line at Georgia but the former all-SEC guard at Auburn might be better known these days as one of the best recruiters in the country. If Garner gets any more titles, he's going to need a business poster, not card. He is also recruiting coordinator and assistant head coach.
Garner's latest recruiting prodigy, tailback Knowshon Moreno, will start the season as a Heisman frontrunner. The coach already had landed defensive lineman Kade Weston out of Red Bank, N.J., when Moreno came on his radar from Middletown (N.J.) South High School.
"I made my one phone call and I found out (Moreno's) grandmamma was from Alabama," Garner said. "I'm from Alabama."
That's how it started.
A couple of 15-hour train rides to and from Athens for a Georgia camp, and Moreno was hooked.
"There's a train that runs from here to New Jersey?" quarterback Matthew Stafford asked.
Apparently, which is another sign of Garner's recruiting ability.
The Jersey boy then ran for 1,334 yards, the most yards by a Georgia freshman since Herschel Walker. His signature moves are bouncing up immediately after each tackle and beating up his defensive teammates in practice.
"He wants to be great, I don't think he wants to be good," Garner said of Moreno. "He's going 100 miles per hour; he's hyper. It's not an act of showboating. That's his passion for the game."
Garner's passion is his unit becoming one of the most intimidating forces in the SEC. He's already the best defensive line coach in the country.
Five others to consider.
|Pos.||Dennis Dodd||Community Users|
|HC||Pete Carroll, USC||Pete Carroll|
|DC||Jim Heacock, Ohio State||Tom Bradley, Penn State|
|OC||Norm Chow, UCLA||Norm Chow|
|LB||Brian Cabral, Colorado||Luke Fickell, Ohio St.|
|OL||Pat Ruel, USC||Hugh Nall, Auburn|
|DL||Rodney Garner, Georgia||John Blake, N. Carolina|
|DB||Chuck Heater, Florida||Bobby Jack Wright, Okla.|
|RB||Cale Gundy, Oklahoma||Eddie Gran, Auburn|
|WR||Erik Campbell, Iowa||Andy Hill, Missouri|
|TE||Bruce Walker, Missouri||Bruce Walker|
John Blake, North Carolina: After winning a couple of Super Bowls with Dallas, Blake found his niche as possibly the nation's best recruiter. Ironically, he is also known as one of the worst head coaches in Oklahoma history. However, Blake recruited the core of the team that allowed Bob Stoops to win the national championship in his second year at Oklahoma. It's still early at Carolina but he's already doing great things for Butch Davis.
Odell Haggins, Florida State: So Florida State has slipped? Haggins is still getting players. Watch for juco defensive end Markus White this season. White led the nation with 24.5 sacks in 2007 and should shore up a defense in need of impact D-ends.
Technically, Haggins coaches only the defensive tackles but his impact has been felt all over the defensive front in his 14 seasons. During that time, eight Seminoles linemen have been drafted in the first round.
Larry Johnson, Penn State: Part of the powerhouse coaching staff at Penn State, Johnson has helped produce four All-Americans -- Tamba Hali, Jimmy Kennedy, Courtney Brown and Michael Haynes. The former linebacker at Elizabeth City State is the father of Larry Jr., one of the NFL's best running backs with the Chiefs.
Mo Latimore, Kansas State: It was hard to be an All-American anything for Kansas State in the 1970s. Latimore made it as a guard in 1970-71. By staying for 23 years, Mo became the longest-tenured coach in school history producing a load of all-conference and All-American defenders. Latimore was one of Ron Prince's first hires when the young coach took over in 2006.
Dan McCarney, Florida: As a head coach, McCarney did at Iowa State what no other coach is likely to do in the near future -- get the Cyclones to five bowls in 12 years. Sorry, Iowa State fans, it just doesn't get better than that in Ames. After Iowa State, McCarney was highly sought as an assistant. At South Florida, he coached All-American defensive end George Selvie in 2007. Florida hired the former Wisconsin defensive coordinator in the offseason to coach the D-line.