Josh Heupel’s defensive staff is beginning to come together. The new Tennessee coach officially announced two more defensive assistants on Friday, Rodney Garner and Willie Martinez, two veterans of the SEC. They’re also familiar with one another.

Garner will coach the defensive line, while Martinez will serve as secondary coach. Both return to Knoxville after previous stints at UT, and 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 in an announcement by the school. “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 previously worked 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. Before Auburn, Garner spent 15 seasons at Georgia.

Garner’s two seasons at Tennessee were as the tight ends and offensive tackles coach from 1996-97.

Martinez reunites with Heupel after he was 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.

Martinez coached cornerbacks at Cincinnati in 2017 and was on Tennessee’s staff from 2014-16.

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