ATHENS – Twenty-seven years ago, when Tracy Rocker was a senior at Auburn, he was in a lobby at the athletic dorm and looked up at photos of four former Tiger great football players, including Bo Jackson and Pat Sullivan.
“Those pictures never move. They are a part of history,” Rocker said, according to a 1988 story by the Scripps Howard news Service. “I want my picture up there.”
Rocker ended up getting his picture on a bigger building. Auburn hung a large mural of Rocker on Jordan-Hare Stadium, one of seven former Tiger players to be so honored. It was removed this spring because of construction on the scoreboard, meaning that Rocker’s current players on Georgia’s defensive line won’t see it as they arrive and play on Saturday.
And that probably suits Rocker just fine.
Rocker never talks to his players about his Auburn days, or his playing days in general. He doesn’t talk about winning the Outland Trophy (for best offensive or defensive lineman) in 1988, or being SEC player of the year, or being a two-time All-American.
“He doesn’t talk about his playing days, or anything like that.” senior defensive lineman Josh Dawson said. “It’s not hard to figure out. You just look it up, you can find out. But he doesn’t talk about it at all.”
Or, if Rocker does say something, it’s brief.
“One thing he always tell us is his playing days are over with. The only way he plays is through us,” senior defensive lineman Sterling Bailey said.
That doesn’t stop Bailey, Dawson and the other defensive linemen from being curious. Bailey said he’s gone online to watch old clips of Rocker, who had 21 sacks and 354 tackles at Auburn.
“He really got after it,” Bailey said.
Rocker, who declined to speak to the media this week, has been back to Auburn plenty of times as an opposing coach. He was an assistant at SEC West rivals Arkansas and Ole Miss from 2003-08.
Then he returned to Auburn as defensive line coach from 2009-10, earning a national championship ring in the second year, before bolting for the NFL’s Tennessee Titans. When that staff was fired three years later, Georgia had an opening, and Rocker, as an Atlanta native, jumped on it.
“It’s amazing how things start working out,” Rocker said on the day he was hired.
Earlier this year Rocker was given a raise and the title of associate head coach, after other programs came after him. This season a number of Rocker’s players, from senior James DeLoach to freshman Trent Thompson, are emerging on a line that’s been stout against the run. There may be uncertainty about the future of Georgia’s coaching staff, but the feeling around the building is every effort will be made to retain Rocker.
“He was a great player,” Dawson said. “But he’s an even better coach.”