Tennessee adds veterans Garner, Martinez to defensive staff

Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — New Tennessee coach Josh Heupel has brought back veteran assistants Rodney Garner and Willie Martinez for return stints with the Volunteers’ defensive staff.

Garner guided Tennessee’s tight ends and offensive tackles from 1996-97 and will coach the defensive line this time around. The Vols won the 1997 Southeastern Conference championship among 21 victories during his previous stay. Garner had spent the past eight seasons as Auburn’s associate head coach and D-line coach.

Martinez, who oversaw the secondary and was Heupel’s assistant head coach the past three seasons at UCF, will guide the Vols’ defensive backs. He held similar roles at Tennessee from 2014-16 – grooming All-Americans Evan Berry and Cameron Sutton in 2015 – and worked in 2017 season at Cincinnati. Martinez has also coached at Oklahoma.

Garner and Martinez have earned five SEC titles in their 45 combined years in the league, which includes working together at Georgia from 2001-09. Heupel said in a release that bringing both back to UT was an “important step” for his program.

“They understand what it takes to build an elite defense in the SEC and have developed numerous NFL draft picks through the years,” Heupel added. “They also coached and mentored many student-athletes on some of Tennessee’s most successful teams. We know they will make a significant impact on our program once again.”