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Heupel adds two coaches to defensive staff

Rodney Garner and Willie Martinez returning to Tennessee
New Tennessee Defensive Line Coach
New Tennessee Defensive Line Coach(WVLT)
Published: Feb. 19, 2021 at 6:12 PM EST
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Veteran SEC coaches Rodney Garner and Willie Martinez, who own a combined 45 years of experience in the league and five SEC championships, have been named to Tennessee football’s defensive staff, head coach Josh Heupel announced on Friday.

Garner will coach the defensive line, while Martinez will serve as secondary coach. Both return to Knoxville after previous successful stints at UT. They coached on Georgia’s staff together from 2001-09.”Bringing Coach Garner and Coach Martinez back to Tennessee is an important step for our program,” Heupel said. “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 returns to Tennessee after previously serving as the associate head coach and defensive line coach at Auburn the past eight seasons (2013-20). During his first year with the Tigers, Auburn won the 2013 SEC Championship and reached the BCS Championship Game. A total of three defensive linemen mentored by Garner were drafted following that season, including first-rounder Dee Ford.In 2019, Auburn’s defense ranked eighth nationally in both red zone and third-down defense, allowing only 19.5 points per game against a schedule that featured six 11-win opponents. Garner coached consensus All-America defensive tackle Derrick Brown, who won the Lott IMPACT Trophy and was the No. 7 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers. Meanwhile, second-team All-American Marlon Davidson was taken in the second round by the Atlanta Falcons.

Prior to Auburn, Garner spent 15 seasons at Georgia as the Bulldogs posted 117 victories, two SEC Championships, five SEC Eastern Division titles, seven bowl wins and six top-10 finishes, including No. 2 in 2007 and No. 3 in 2002. He added the title of assistant head coach in 2005 after serving as defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator since January 1998.During Garner’s two seasons at Tennessee as the tight ends and offensive tackles coach from 1996-97, the Volunteers tallied a combined 21 wins and were 14-2 in SEC play, while claiming the 1997 SEC Championship.

Martinez reunites with Heupel after serving as the assistant head coach and secondary coach at UCF the past three seasons. Martinez has coached in 17 bowl games, won six conference championships and was a national championship player at Miami in 1983.During his first season in Orlando, the Knights won the American Athletic Conference and earned a berth to the 2019 Fiesta Bowl. UCF’s defense allowed just 22.7 points per game and ranked sixth in the nation with 28 forced turnovers.

The Knights racked up 8.2 tackles for loss per game -- fifth most in the nation -- and notched 29 sacks.Martinez coached cornerbacks at Cincinnati in 2017 and played a key role in Tennessee’s success from 2014-16. As assistant head coach and secondary coach at UT for four seasons, the Vols culminated back-to-back nine-win seasons with wins in the 2016 Outback Bowl and 2016 Music City Bowl. He mentored a pair of UT All-Americans in Evan Berry and Cameron Sutton in 2015.

Martinez also enjoyed significant success at stops at Oklahoma and Georgia. He was the secondary coach for the Sooners from 2010-11 and served on Georgia’s staff from 2001-09, including the last five seasons as defensive coordinator and secondary coach.During his two seasons at Oklahoma, Martinez helped the Sooners to a 23-5 record and the 2010 Big 12 Conference championship. His time at Georgia saw the Bulldogs claim 90 victories, two SEC titles (2002, ’05), three division crowns, seven bowl victories and six top-10 finishes.

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