I talked to Tracy Rocker on Friday. He didn’t have much to say.
“What are you up to?” I asked.
“Nothing,” Rocker said.
“Well, can you tell me, did you leave Georgia on your own or were you dismissed?”
Here he sort of chuckled. “Everybody’s in a happy place,” he said.
“Do you have another job set up or are you taking some time off for a while?” I asked.
“You’ll know. Everything’s in a good place.”
Here Rocker ended the interview by saying “I’ve gotta run. Thanks for reaching out.”
The truth is I’d been trying to reach Rocker for a while. Off and on ever since UGA confirmed his departure less than a week after National Signing Day. I just called him from a different number this time.
And as cryptic as the information Rocker shared, it’s more than the players he recruited for Georgia got.
I was in Forsyth earlier this week to meet with defensive line signee Malik Herring for our Next Generation series. During that visit, Mary Persons coach Brian Nelson informed me that Herring, who was recruited to Georgia by Rocker, never heard from the Bulldogs’ defensive line coach that he was leaving or about to leave or was let go.
Turns out Herring found out how most everybody else did, via social media.
“He just came walking in here one day looking at his phone and asked me if I knew what happened to Tracy Rocker,” Nelson said. “I told him I honestly didn’t know and that was the end of it. The next thing I knew he said he got a call from Tray Scott or whatever his name is and that was pretty much it.”
Tray Scott is the guy Georgia hired from Ole Miss to replace Rocker. I haven’t talked to him either.
In any case, that got me to wondering about the whole protocol aspect of these things. I mean, we all know that these college coaches can leave or get fired on a whim and/or tend to do so shortly after signing day. You know, so they can get Johnny Prospect signed, sealed and delivered first via the unbreakable national letter of intent. Heck, Ed Orgeron culled two members of his staff at LSU after signing day.
But as far as I can tell, there is not some inside-the-business ethical criteria for handling these things. Apparently the head coach doesn’t sit down and call all the recruits affected by such a decision or make any kind of attempt to explain it or anything. It just kind of happens and everybody is left to deal with it however they need to. Or so it seems.
I was over at Cedar Grove this week meeting with Georgia signees Netori Johnson and Justin Shaffer and their coach, Jimmy Smith. The Saints are reigning Class AAA state champions, and that school and that district is fertile ground for producing talented athletes. It also happens to have been in the recruiting territory of Rocker, a proud graduate of the former Fulton High School.
So I asked Coach Smith if he’d heard from Rocker since all this went down.
“No, I never talked to Tracy,” Smith said. “I found out in the news.”
Just to be sure, I asked him if Rocker was responsible for recruiting Johnson and Shaffer to UGA.
“Yeah, he was,” Smith told me. “Well, he started recruiting them first. (Sam) Pittman ended up being their primary recruiter. But Tracy has my school. He recruited Antwuan (Jackson) a lot last year.”
Jackson was a blue-chip defensive lineman who signed with Auburn last year. There are a lot of theories out there floating around that recruiting misses are why Rocker’s not at Georgia anymore. In addition to Jackson, the Bulldogs missed out on the state’s No. 1 defensive tackle each of the last two years. Aubrey Solomon went to Michigan this year and Derrick Brown joined Jackson at Auburn last year.
But nobody knows for sure.
Regardless, it’s not like any of these high school players or coaches are broken up about it.
“Not really. It’s a business,” said Smith, echoing what pretty much everybody else said to me about it. “I don’t know what the situation was. I don’t know if (Rocker) was wanting to leave or what happened. I know Coach Smart pretty good but he hasn’t told me what the situation was. Coach Rocker seemed like a good guy, seemed like a good coach, but sometimes coaches don’t fit in certain places. I don’t know what happened.”
Said Nelson: “I think that’s the nature of the business. You know, that’s major college athletics. I don’t care if it’s football or basketball or women’s basketball. Whatever it is, that’s the nature of the beast these days. It’s crazy.”
As for the players, they parroted their coaches.
“College football is big business, man,” Johnson said.
I didn’t get to talk to Herring about it, but his coach did.
“He’s fine,” Nelson said of his star player. “I don’t necessarily think it was a big deal. He gets along with all those guys who are going (to UGA) and that’s the reason he went there, not coaches per se. I’m talking about Jake Fromm and (Richard) LeCounte, and Jaden Hunter is one of his best buddies. So, you know, that’s not going to change.”
Therein lies the most important lesson: You sign with the school, not with the coach. It’s an old refrain in athletics but one that seems to become more pertinent with each passing year.