ATHENS — In the wake of mounting criticism following the hiring of Gene Chizik as head coach at Auburn, Georgia assistant Rodney Garner isn’t adding fuel to the fire, despite being passed over for the job vacated by Tommy Tuberville earlier this month.
Garner, an Auburn alum, interviewed for the Tigers’ head-coaching job with athletics director Jay Jacobs last week along with more than a half-dozen other candidates, including Buffalo head coach Turner Gill.
When Gill and Garner, both of whom are black, were passed over for the job, accusations surfaced that race played a part in the hiring process, coming most notably from former Auburn basketball star Charles Barkley, who said Gill thought his was a token interview. Garner said that was not the impression he got from his experience.
“I definitely did not feel that my interview was a token interview,” Garner said. “I thought that it was fair. I was in there two-and-a-half hours. I felt like they gave me a very fair opportunity to present my plan for the program.”
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Barkley said the hiring of Chizik, who had a record of just 5-19 as head coach at Iowa State, could not be justified when compared with Gill’s record at Buffalo, where he won the MAC championship this season.
An outpouring of anger from Auburn fans followed Chizik’s hiring, with many echoing Barkley’s concerns. Garner did not dispute Barkley’s comments, but said he would take school’s explanation for the hire at face value.
“The process played out, and I think in the end, they hired who they thought was the best fit,” Garner said. “Charles is entitled to his opinion, but the only people who know are the ones who make the decisions.”
Garner’s interview was his first for a head-coaching job after 18 years as an assistant, where he has gained a reputation as one of the SEC’s best recruiters.
While the process did not result in his hire, Garner said he was happy to have had the opportunity to interview, calling it an important learning experience he hoped would be afforded to more black coaches.
Still, Garner said he wasn’t sure a rule similar to the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which requires a team interview minority candidates for head-coaching vacancies, would work at the college level. There are just four black head coaches at the FBS (formerly Division I-A) level, and none in the SEC.
“You would like to see more diversity in the hiring practice, but I’m not sure that a Rooney rule would work in college,” Garner said. “In the pros, you’re dealing with management, ownership. You may be dealing with one person or a family. In college, you’re dealing with a whole facet of people, and there are a lot of different factors that play into it. So I don’t know if that rule will work, per se.”