ATHENS, Ga. – Tracy Rocker is finally a Georgia Bulldog, after a long wait.
Rocker confirmed Saturday that he will join Georgia's coaching staff as the defensive line coach, after playing and coaching all over the Southeast, but never in his home state.
Rocker, who grew up in Atlanta, went on to play at Auburn, and has coached for Auburn, Mississippi and Arkansas. He spent the past three seasons coaching the defensive-line for the NFL's Tennessee Titans. Now he's headed to Athens.
"It's amazing how things start working out," Rocker said Saturday morning. "It was unique to me, because I grew up in Atlanta obviously, like anybody else you grow up and watch Georgia football. And that's what I grew up (watching). And now I'm back closer to the house. And I'm part of a very prominent, historical, program."
Rocker spoke from his home in Nashville, which he was packing up. He planned to be in Athens early next week.
"Very excited," Rocker said. "And I'm more so excited to be joining the staff, based on the people I've met."
Rocker will join the staff of new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who has now hired two assistants. Kevin Sherrer was announced as an assistant coach Friday for an unspecified position but now likely will coach the linebackers. That leaves one more spot open, likely for a defensive-oriented coach who can be involved in special teams.
This also means that Georgia will again have a former Auburn player coaching the defensive line. Rodney Garner was at Georgia for 13 years before leaving after the 2012 season for his alma mater. Chris Wilson, an Oklahoma graduate, did a good job at Georgia last year but left for Southern California.
A number of Rocker-coached defensive linemen have had success: Nick Fairley (Auburn) was a first-team All-American, Jeria Perry (Ole Miss), Jeb Huckeba (Arkansas) and Jamaal Anderson (Arkansas) were first-team All-SEC picks, and Greg Hardy was a third-team All-SEC pick.
In Rocker's lone season at Ole Miss, the Rebels were fourth nationally in run defense. And in his final season at Auburn, the Tigers were ninth nationally, with Fairley emerging as one of the top defenders in the country.
Success was a bit more elusive for Rocker at the pro level. The Titans ranked 20th in the NFL in run defense in 2013, and 24th in each of Rocker's first two years.
Rocker, 46, grew up in Atlanta, starring at Fulton High School, which later merged with another school to become South Atlanta High. Although he never returned to work in the state of Georgia - until now - much of his family remained.
Rocker, who was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2004, won the Outland and Lombardi trophies at Auburn in 1988. He was a two-time All-American, and a three-time All-SEC pick. He was the SEC player of the year as a senior, and finished his career with 354 tackles and 21 sacks.
The Washington Redskins drafted Rocker in the third round, and he lasted two years there, then played one more year in the CFL before his career ended.
Rocker began his coaching career in 1992 at Auburn (Ala.) High School, then moved to the college ranks at West Alabama in 1994. After spending two years there, he spent five seasons as the defensive-line coach at Troy State, followed by one year at Cincinnati. Then he spent five years at Arkansas and one year at Ole Miss, before joining Auburn's staff in 2009.
Now Rocker takes over a Georgia defensive line that was the bright spot of the defense this season and returns everyone except starting defensive end Garrison Smith.
"I'm looking forward to it," Rocker said. "Go Dogs."