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Carolina Panthers
Derrick Brown bringing lessons from Auburn position coach to NFL
The Panthers' first-round pick shares a special bond with Tigers defensive line coach Rodney Garner.
By Myles Simmons Apr 29, 2020

When Matt Rhule described what he liked about Derrick Brown when they met at the Senior Bowl, Carolina's head coach pointed to a specific relationship the defensive tackle had at Auburn.

"He kept talking about his defensive line coach and how much his defensive line coach meant to him," Rhule said soon after the Panthers made Brown their first-round pick last week.

"Here's a man that's getting ready to make a bunch of money and he's talking about how much (his defensive line coach) has impacted his life. A – I said that must be a great defensive line coach, coach (Rodney) Garner. At the same time, I said (Brown) is someone that really connects and it really kind of grabbed me."

It's been a few months since that meeting in January. But after going from Auburn student-athlete to the draft's No. 7 overall pick, Brown is still just as grateful for his relationship with Garner. Asked what made his relationship with his former coach so special, Brown began with his recruiting process.

"Coming out of high school, Coach G had a reputation for putting guys in the league. I wanted that dream. I wanted to be in that situation," Brown said. "I'm proud I get to add my name to that list of guys that he was able to coach and put in there."

Garner has been coaching up defensive linemen for decades now, spending 1998-2012 at Georgia before heading back to Auburn, his alma mater, in 2013. He's helped send many of his players to the NFL, a list that includes former Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson and Pro Bowlers like Richard Seymour, Marcus Stroud, and Geno Atkins.

As impressive as that list may be, Brown said he cherishes the personal relationship he forged with Garner as much as the opportunity he now has to make an impact in the NFL.

"He was a true second father to me for the last four years," Brown said.


Garner said he began to recruit Brown during his sophomore year in high school. Through that process, the two developed a bond based on trust. In turn, Garner pushed Brown to reach his full potential.

"I think he had followed my career a little bit and knew the success I'd had at Georgia coaching D-line," Garner said. "We just had the same philosophy and the same background. And I just think that his parents believed in us and what we stood for."

While there was a point where Brown wavered in his commitment to Auburn, he ultimately decided to stick with the school in large part because of Garner's presence. Now Brown looks back on the choice as the best he could have made.

"It was crazy because all of the other defensive line coaches that I had that I was interested in schools — they all left," Brown said. "And I ended up being with Coach G for four years and that relationship between me and Coach G is always going to be there."

Garner admitted that his style isn't for everyone, given how hard he coaches players. But Brown's work ethic was on point from the time he arrived at campus, in large part, Garner said, because of the strong foundation Brown had at home.

"I think the way he was brought up, he was not afraid to work," Garner said. "I knew how he was raised and I knew even though he was uncomfortable with some of the things, I knew that he didn't have that quit in him. Because even if he wanted to quit, (his parents) wouldn't allow it. You know?

"If he called home and said, "I'm coming home,' they'd be like, 'Well you better have somewhere else to go because you're not coming here.'"

Garner laughed, before adding with another chuckle, "It's the same like when I wanted to quit. My mom said I could quit, but I couldn't come home."

But more than what Brown was able to accomplish on the field — with honors including 2019 SEC Defensive Player of the Year — Garner felt it was important to develop Brown as a human being.

"It wasn't just about football. They were giving us a young man and we were going to do everything we could to give them a man back," Brown said. "That was our goal, and we worked together and we did it."

To that end, Brown earned the nickname "Baby Barack" for his leadership roles on Auburn's campus and within the SEC's Student-Athlete Leadership Council. And while Garner said he's not sure if Brown is necessarily the type to go into politics after his football career, he believes Brown could be successful in that field because of his ability to bring people together and make them feel valued.

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Baby Barack

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"I think that's something that's missing in today's society. When you walk into a dining hall and you see Derrick Brown with just a bunch of walk-ons — not star players, these guys are just walk-ons — and they're having a great time, they're loving him," Garner said. "He didn't just hang out with the good players, but he hung out with the walk-ons, the scout-teamers, the student-managers, the student-trainers, the interns that worked in recruiting. He just has the ability to just affect others in a positive way."

Part of that is the message Garner preaches inside the D-Line room day after day: Be a pro long before you become a pro.

"What I mean by that is, I want them to carry themselves like a pro and know what's expected of them as a pro," Garner said. "So when they become a pro, it won't be foreign to them and they'll have the ability to have some sustaining power."

That message resonated, as Brown cited it verbatim as one of the two most important lessons from Garner he'll bring to the league.

"That was whether it was on the football field, out in the world — no matter what it was," Brown said. "If you come to work every day with that attitude, then you'll be OK. And number two would be, don't ever stop. Don't quit. Just keep always working to get better and better because you're going to eventually get it."

So as Brown makes his way from Auburn to Carolina, what the incoming rookie has learned from Garner both on and off the field will stick with him as he attempts to add another name to Garner's list of Pro Bowl defensive linemen.

"He watched over me day in and day out, been there for me when I needed him," Brown said. "I can't thank him any more than what I have already."

View photos of Carolina's first-round pick, Derrick Brown, out of Auburn.

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