ATHENS, Ga. - Georgia's football program has undergone just one coaching change the past two years, but it was notable.
Defensive line coach Rodney Garner left for Auburn, his alma mater, last December after spending 15 seasons with the Bulldogs. Garner had been at Georgia three years longer than current head coach Mark Richt, so it was going to be a very new situation for whoever replaced him.
The replacement was Chris Wilson, who was hired in January.
"It was tough," senior nose tackle Garrison Smith said. "You're used to having somebody for three years, and then all of a sudden you've got a new coach. That's life, though, and you've got to get used to the changes. Coach Wilson came in and told us he was going to to be fair, and once he saw who the leaders were, everything just fell into place.
"When you're a new coach, you've just got to scope everything out."
Wilson came to Georgia after three seasons at Mississippi State, where he was not only defensive line coach but had coordinator roles as well.
"Football is football, so it's really just about getting used to new personalities," Wilson said. "Rodney did a great job of putting some really good players and really good men in that room, so I'm really fortunate in that regard."
While Garner is garnering attention this week for the time he spent at Georgia as well as the improving Auburn defense, Wilson is quietly doing his share to enhance the play at his new locale.
The Bulldogs are younger up front compared to a year ago but are rotating more players, and their average of 126.0 rushing yards allowed per game is noticeably better than the 182.1-yard average from a year ago. Defensive linemen have accounted for 14 sacks so far this season, led by Ray Drew's six and Smith's four, after accounting for 3.5 last year.
"Chris is a hard-nosed ball coach, which we're kind of used to around here, and at that position you have to be," Richt said. "He's a great communicator, and I think he really shows our guys that he cares about them as a person. He just relates well to them. I think you've got to gain their respect by letting them know that you mean business and whatever you say and ask them to do, you hold them accountable to do it.
"Chris is really good at that. Obviously he's been a coordinator before and he knows football, so I think they have a lot of respect for his knowledge."
Georgia's defensive linemen harbor no hard feelings toward Garner, understanding that he grew up outside Birmingham and that he and his wife graduated from Auburn.
When asked if there were differences between Garner and Wilson, Drew said they were both technicians who "have their things that everyone likes and dislikes about them." He added that it was very difficult to say who is more demanding.
Wilson came to Georgia having known both Garner and Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who has now recommended every assistant on his side of the ball.
"Chris was a guy who had been a coordinator and kind of saw the whole picture," Grantham said, "and he's a positive energy guy who understands that there is a matchup or a game going on within the front. We play a lot of guys up front right now, and that's kind of a game within a game as far playing guys situationally and keeping them fresh.
"I think he's done a good job of going through the plan with us and executing the plan to make sure we get quite a few guys some snaps."
The Bulldogs worked out for two hours Wednesday, with leading receiver Chris Conley (ankle) not going through the entire practice but doing some change-of-direction running. Richt described Conley's showing as "promising" as it relates to playing Saturday.
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