ATHENS – It was a phrase that Tracy Rocker used on his players at Georgia all the time. He’d say, “what you gonna do when the baby’s crying.”
It was his way of asking his charges, how are they going to handle times when they get tough? So it was no coincidence that Rocker used it on them again after he was informed he’d been terminated by the Bulldogs. He called each one of the defensive linemen in the 24 hours after his early-February dismissal.
“That’s what he said before he hung up,” senior John Atkins said of his telephone conversation with the ousted defensive line and assistant head coach. “He used to say that all the time.”
It resonated particularly well with Atkins, who had his first child just seven months ago. And John Atkins, Jr., has been crying a lot lately. He recently had surgery to have his adenoids removed.
“It was tough,” Atkins said of his baby, not of his position coach. “The first night was the hardest night. I had to stay up until about 5 or 6 in the morning just holding him. He didn’t want to lay down.”
Atkins said balancing the life of a college football player and a father hasn’t been too difficult. His son was born shortly before the start of last season. So he has gotten used to handling the multiple responsibilities.
As for the transition from Rocker to Tray Scott, Georgia players insist it hasn’t been that difficult either. Rocker was fired on Feb. 6 and Scott, a 32-year-old former assistant at North Carolina, was hired two days later.
“I like him,” said senior outside linebacker/defensive end Davin Bellamy. “He relates with the guys a lot. He’s a young, energetic coach. You can tell he has fire in his belly. He’s also a technician. I see him out there getting those young guys right. I even told him today, I’d seen him coaching the young guys, I was like, ‘C’mon coach Scott don’t forget about me now.'”
The defensive linemen have had about six weeks to get to know their new boss in meetings and off-season workouts. Scott is Atkins’ third position coach in five years.
“It’s really the same coaching style,” Atkins said. “They’re really the same. Each guy is bringing the same thing in the room, so it’s kind of like there’s not a fall off.”
Georgia certainly should hope not. It returns a strong group of young defensive linemen. Well, with the exception of Atkins, a fifth-year senior who arrived only after a stint in prep school.
“I’ve got to make my body keep up with them because they’re moving,” Atkins said of his young position mates.
With 10 returning starters on the defensive side of the ball, there is high expectation for Georgia’s defense, regardless of who is coaching the line. The Bulldogs were fourth in the SEC in total defense and fourth against the rush last season. No drop-off is expected this year.
“We can’t let that get in our way,” Atkins said of the high expectations. “We’ve still got to work every day. I feel like we’re going to be the best, but only if we keep coming to practice each day and working.”