JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A lot of Georgia’s coaches and players have been careful with their words when it comes to their feelings about how things came down this season and how some coaches lost their jobs, took new ones and a few quit. But Tracy Rocker has never been one to mince words when it comes to scenarios and situations.
After the Bulldogs eked out another close win, 24-17 over Penn State in the TaxSlayer Bowl, Rocker was more than a little relieved and grateful.
“Right now, I’m just going to enjoy this damn day,” he said emphatically. “It’s been one hell of a month. I’m just glad we won.”
When asked how he felt about what took place at UGA this season, Rocker called it “a mutiny.” Head coach Mark Richt was fired at the end of a 9-3 season, and only two of his nine assistants were retained by new head coach Kirby Smart.
Rocker was one of them and outside linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer was the other.
“When you play a game like this and you have — I’ll call it — a bit of a mutiny; well, it IS mutiny — it’s important that you bring the kids together, and I thought it was important we did that,” Rocker said in a concourse beneath EverBank Field. “Those kids, we kept them together, and that’s what B-Mac (Bryan McClendon) did a great job with. Everybody focused and everybody stayed the course.”
Rocker declined to expound on exactly what he meant by a mutiny. But linebackers coach Mike Ekeler and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer are among the coaches who left and forewent their bowl bonuses had they stayed with the team.
Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, an alleged source of friction for both of them supposedly and others, has since left to succeed Smart at Alabama.
But neither Rocker nor Sherrer wanted to talk about all that. With their jobs at UGA secured, they’re firmly focused on the future.
“I think he’s going to bring, energy, excitement, passion, hard work, and that’s not just on the field. That’s on the recruiting trail,” said Sherrer, who served as interim defensive coordinator for the bowl game. “And I think there will be a lot of things from the University of Georgia as a whole that will bring excitement and bring them together and kind of pulling in the same direction. These kids will love playing for him. He’s a high-energy guy. He’s demanding, but that’s what you want.”
Neither Sherrer nor Rocker would say exactly what their roles will be with Smart, or if they actually knew. The defensive coordinator’s job remains unfilled by Smart and Sherrer said he’d love the opportunity to handle it.
“We talked a little bit,” Sherrer said of Smart, who was in Jacksonville Friday and Saturday. “There are some things that are up in the air but it will work itself out in time. I think he’ll let everybody know at the same time what the staff situation will be.”
As to whether he has a shot at being permanent DC, Sherrer said he hoped so. The Bulldogs gave up 401 total yards against Penn State on Saturday but held on at the end.
“You always want to make a statement as a coach that you’re worthy of having an opportunity wherever the place is,” Sherrer said. “But it will all take care of itself in time.”
Rocker was associate head coach under Richt, in addition to coaching D-line. Neither coach was sure if they’d be able to remain in Athens or not, though both wanted to.
“It’s part of the deal,” said Rocker, a Lombardi and Outland Trophy winner at Auburn who came to Georgia in 2014 after coaching in the NFL. “I’ve moved a lot, but I’m glad to be here. I have a young son (Kumar Rocker) that I’d like to finish school in Athens. He’s a junior coming up at North Oconee. I want him to finish school there. Other than that, Georgia’s my home and I’m happy to be here.”
Said Sherrer: “It’s not like you know this is going to happen. You don’t know who the new coach is going to be. In this profession, it’s year-to-year anyway. So, yeah, you’re a little nervous. You’ve got a wife and kids you’re trying to explain what the situation is. I’m just glad it worked out.”