ATHENS — It’s officially “Silly Season” in college football.
The carnival rides are open and the coaches are racing to the carousel.
And Georgia’s right in the middle of it. Again.
Defensive line coach Tracy Rocker is leaving. The Bulldogs’ defensive line and associate head coach was either fired or left of his own volition, depending on which side of the rumor mill you believe. It doesn’t matter because nobody ever speaks the truth about these things. Nobody wants to burn any bridges or close any doors to future opportunities. There’s a lot more movement these days than there used to be, and there’s a lot of money to be made by hopping on this merry-go-round. Occasionally, it pays for these guys to revisit some of the same places.
There is reason to believe, and certainly a lot of scuttlebutt out there, that Rocker’s dismissal — if that’s what it was — is the result of poor recruiting performance. And an argument certainly could be made for that. After all, Rocker missed out on the top defensive lineman in the state of Georgia each of the last two seasons.
Derrick Brown went to Auburn last year and Aubrey Solomon signed with Michigan a week ago. Both were 5-star prospects. If we know anything about head coach Kirby Smart, it’s that he doesn’t mess around when it comes to recruiting. And defensive line, lest we ignore his experience at Alabama, is one of the key components for championship-team building. You can’t let the best D-linemen in the country, who happen to reside within the same borders as a state university that takes its football very seriously, skedaddle out of town to another program, especially a rival one such as Auburn last year.
That said, it’s not like Rocker hasn’t had some successes. A 23-year coaching veteran and former Lombardi and Outland Trophy winner at Auburn did sign Trenton Thompson for the Bulldogs in 2015. Thompson, who likely will be preseason All-SEC this fall, remains the only No. 1 overall-rated player Georgia has ever signed, or at least since Herschel Walker.
And the Brown whiff notwithstanding, the Bulldogs racked up pretty well last year, with prep All-Americans Julian Rochester and Michail Carter and 4-star recruit Tyler Clark on the D-line. Along with defensive end David Marshall, those guys formed the nucleus of a group that should provide the foundation for Georgia’s defense for the next couple of years.
But you just can’t miss on the No. 1 guy. I mean, it happens. With the melting pot that is Atlanta and kids coming from everywhere and having loyalties scattered all over the map, you can’t always land everybody you want, no matter how much love and attention you get.
Know this: The pressure to recruit the best of the best to Georgia is at an all-time high. There’s no question nobody would have wanted to sign Solomon more than Rocker. I’m sure he was supremely disappointed when Solomon took his services to Ann Arbor.
In any case, don’t feel too bad for Rocker. Again, he could have left simply because he wanted a change of scenery or to return to the NFL. He spent three years coaching D-line for the Tennessee Titans and word then was he liked not having to recruit. If you can get paid the same — and Rocker was making $525,000 a year — who wouldn’t one prefer that, I’d reason?
And, like I said, it pays to jump on the carousel these days. With all the money pouring into college football these days, Power 5 assistant coaching jobs make for an extremely good living. And it’s good for defensive line coaches, in particular. Just look at the movement at that position Georgia has absorbed these last few years. Rodney Garner left for Auburn in after the 2012 season and was replaced by Chris Wilson. Wilson coached just one season before returning to Southern Cal. He was succeeded by Rocker, who is leaving after three seasons. And he’s just one year removed from a substantial raise and promotion.
As for where Georgia might go, most everything that’s out there right now is purely speculation. Immediately Chris Rumph’s name came bouncing to the forefront. Florida’s D-line coach was one of the primary candidates floated last December when Smart was assembling his staff at Georgia. Rumph was D-line coach and worked with Smart at Alabama from 2011-14.
But he also worked at Clemson from 2006-10 and recently turned down some an apparent lucrative offer from the defending national champions last month. So if he is indeed Smart’s target, Georgia’s probably going to have to pony up and pay a lot for him.
Of course, that’s really not an issue anymore. Not in the SEC or any other Power 5 conference for that matter. But the SEC last year distributed $457.8 million to its 14 members, an average of $32.7 million per school. A million-dollar multiyear deal for an assistant coach is chump change these days.
As always, the timing of “Silly Season” sucks for all those recruits who just signed on the dotted line and are not getting paid (allegedly). Here we are not a week removed from National Signing Day, and dozens of coaches who spent countless hours trying to convince these kids to come play for them are moving on.
Heck, LSU didn’t even wait that long. Just a few days after signing day, coach Ed Orgeron parted ways with quarterbacks coach Dameyune Craig and demoted popular New Orleans-area recruiter and running backs coach Jabbar Juluke. SEC Country reports that some of the local high school coaches are considering banning LSU from recruiting their schools because of the bait-and-switch aspect of such a move and the perception of racial overtones.
But that’s another column for another day. For now, Georgia is losing in Rocker a high-profile, name coach who, based on his unit’s performances in recent years, knows a thing or two about coaching ‘em up. That’s a tough loss but, nowadays, it’s just the price of doing business.