Tennessee officially announced the hiring of Rodney Garner and Willie Martinez to its defensive coaching staff on Friday afternoon. Garner will coach the Vols’ defensive line, while Martinez will work in the secondary with the cornerbacks.
“Bringing Coach Garner and Coach Martinez back to Tennessee is an important step for our program,” Vols head coach Josh Heupel said in a press release on Friday.. “They understand what it takes to build an elite defense in the SEC and have developed numerous NFL Draft picks through the years. They also coached and mentored many student-athletes on some of Tennessee’s most successful teams. We are thrilled to welcome them back to Knoxville, and we know they will make a significant impact on our program once again.”
Garner recently served at his alma mater as associate head coach and defensive line coach, a position he held since 2013. He helped develop Jeff Holland, Montravius Adams, Carl Lawson, Dee Ford, Angelo Blackson, Gabe Wright and DaVonte Lambert into NFL players during his second stint on the Plains.
A native of Leeds, Ala., Garner was named all-SEC and honorable mention All-America as a senior at Auburn in 1988, captaining the team that captured the SEC title. Garner served on the Auburn coaching staff from 1990-95 as recruiting coordinator, tight ends coach, and assistant strength and conditioning coach.
During his 15 seasons at Georgia, he was part of a staff that led UGA to 117 victories, two SEC Championships, five SEC Eastern Division titles, seven bowl victories and six Top 10 finishes in the final polls, including No. 2 in 2007 and No. 3 in 2002. He added the title of assistant head coach at Georgia in 2005 after serving as defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator there since January, 1998.
At Georgia, he coached five NFL first round draft choices — Richard Seymour, Marcus Stroud, David Pollack, Charles Grant and Johnathan Sullivan. He also coached draft picks DeAngelo Tyson, Geno Atkins, Corvey Irvin, Jarius Wynn, Kedric Golston, Robert Geathers, and Emarlos Leroy.
Martinez most recently coached at UCF, where he first joined the football staff in December 2017 after Butch Jones was fired at Tennessee. He mentored three defensive backs to all-conference honors in 2018, including AAC first-team all-conference selections.
Martinez is a veteran of more than 30 years of college football coaching, including a previous stop at UCF. He coached cornerbacks at Cincinnati in 2017. Martinez also has collegiate experience at Auburn (secondary, 2012), Oklahoma (secondary, 2010-11), Georgia (defensive coordinator/secondary, 2005-09; secondary, 2001-04), Central Michigan (assistant head coach/secondary, 2000; secondary 1998-99; secondary, 1994), Eastern Michigan (secondary, 1997); UCF (defensive coordinator/secondary; 1995-96); Grand Valley State (defensive coordinator/secondary, 1992-93), Bethune-Cookman (quarterbacks/wide receivers, 1988) and Miami (graduate assistant, 1985-86). Martinez also spent three seasons coaching high school football in Florida early in his career.
Martinez has coached or played in 20 previous bowl games, been a part of six conference championship teams and won a national championship as a student-athlete at Miami in 1983.
Over the last 17 seasons (including 2019), Martinez has mentored 19 all-conference selections, seven All-America performers and 16 NFL Draft picks. Fourteen players he coached were on NFL rosters in 2016. At Tennessee, his defensive backs averaged more than 13 interceptions per season, including the 2014 team that ranked No. 15 in the nation with 16 picks.
During his two seasons at Oklahoma, Martinez helped the Sooners to a 23-5 record and a Big 12 Conference title. During his tenure at Georgia, Martinez helped the Bulldogs to 90 victories, two Southeastern Conference titles, three division crowns, seven bowl victories and six top-10 finishes. During the 2000 season, Martinez led a Central Michigan secondary that paced the nation in pass defense.