ATHENS — The word first started to leak out about Georgia defensive line coach Tracy Rocker’s departure Tuesday morning. By mid-afternoon, multiple media began reporting it, and a Georgia spokesman quickly confirmed.
And within minutes, Arkansas announced the hiring of … someone else. Just in case anyone thought Rocker was about to go back there to work, bookending an SEC career that also saw him at Ole Miss and Auburn.
So who will replace him? It’s possible Kirby Smart could reach up to someone at the NFL, as Arkansas did in hiring John Scott Jr., who had been with the New York Jets. Rocker had also just left an NFL job when he came to Georgia three years ago.
But when Smart put together his staff last year, everyone he hired had most recently worked at the college level. So it’s reasonable to start there for potential candidates:
Chris Rumph, Florida defensive line coach
Rumph was considered a prime candidate when Smart was hired last year. They knew each other well, Rumph having been Alabama’s defensive line coach from 2011-13. Rumph and Smart could be seen embracing after the 2015 SEC championship game, the night before Smart’s official hiring as Georgia’s head coach.
But whether or not there was further contact, Smart opted to retain Rocker. Will Smart pursue Rumph now? One person close to Smart speculated that he would, but even if he does, Florida likely would try hard to retain him. Jim McElwain already has talked one staffer out of going to another SEC East school, on Tuesday retaining an off-field staffer who had been pursued by South Carolina.
Rumph earned $490,000 this past season at Florida. Rocker was earning $525,000 at Georgia. But Rumph reportedly turned down Clemson already this offseason, which may have led to a significant raise. Would Georgia be able to offer what the national champs couldn’t?
Ben Albert, Duke defensive line coach
Albert has never worked in the SEC, but he has worked in the NFL, in 2010 as the assistant defensive line coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars’ defensive coordinator that year was Mel Tucker, now Georgia’s defensive coordinator.
An all-conference defensive lineman at UMass in the early 1990s, Albert spent last year at Duke, after three years at Boston College.
C.J. Ah You, Vanderbilt defensive line coach
Besides having a great name, Ah You is young (34) and Georgia would be able to pluck away a coach from an SEC East rival. You may say, “Vanderbilt a rival?”, but Georgia did have trouble running the ball against the Commodores in October, and we know what the final result was.
Ah You played at Oklahoma for Bob Stoops, who is friendly with Smart. His salary isn’t known, as Vanderbilt is a private institution.
Brian VanGorder, unemployed
Hey, here’s a familiar name. Yes, he’s never coached defensive line, but he knows Georgia, and he knows Smart, who trusted him enough to bring him in last November to consult on the Georgia Tech game. (It didn’t go well, obviously.) VanGorder at last check was also still looking for a new gig, and had interviewed with the New Orleans Saints. And with Georgia playing Notre Dame in September, it wouldn’t hurt to have the Fighting Irish’s former defensive coordinator on staff.
Bo Davis, unemployed
Davis and Smart have also worked together at Alabama, but Davis would be tough to hire as he remains in limbo with the NCAA, following an investigation into recruiting practices. Davis has not been formally charged with anything by the NCAA, but until his status is resolved, it would be hard for Georgia to hire him.
Paul Spicer, Tampa Bay Buccaneers assistant defensive line coach
Another NFL connection to Tucker: Spicer was the assistant defensive line coach for the Jaguars in 2012, while Tucker was there as assistant head coach and defensive coordinator.
Otherwise Spicer, 41, doesn’t have any connections to the SEC, or even to the college level since he played at Saginaw Valley State.
Paul Pasqualoni, Boston College defensive line coach
This is a real reach, but whatever. Pasqualoni also worked under Tucker, as the Chicago Bears’ defensive line coach in 2014, but he’s more well-known for his tenure as the head coach at Syracuse (1991-2004) and Connecticut (2011-13). He also lacks SEC connections, but Smart doesn’t have any assistant coaches who are former head coaches (other than Tucker’s stint as the Jaguars’ interim), so Pasqualoni would at least bring that to the program.
None of the above
It’s not clear how far along Smart is in the search process. But it does seem likely he’s sifting through inquiries, and Georgia has money to offer, and relative stability, with Smart entering his second year. So you never know who might be interested and who would come.