Tracy Rocker is thrilled to be Georgia's new defensive line coach, but for the longtime Bulldogs, his arrival is 30 years too late.
Rocker was a coveted USA Today All-American from Atlanta's Fulton High School in the winter of 1984. Georgia had been the Southeastern Conference's dominant team from 1980 to '82 behind powerful tailback Herschel Walker, but the league was undergoing a power shift to Auburn.
Pat Dye's Tigers won the SEC in 1983, which was a first for the program since 1957, and they were assembling defensive linemen such as Kevin Greene, Gerald Robinson, Gerald Williams and Ben Thomas.
"At that time, recruiting was nothing like it is now," Rocker said last week as Georgia put the finishing touches on Mark Richt's 14th signing class. "Nobody knew where players were going to school or who was playing for who, and you just went where you felt comfortable. I went to camp at Auburn, and I fell in love with Auburn.
"After that, you just went through the recruiting process, and that was the place where I felt I could not only grow into a football player but as a student-athlete and graduate and be successful, and that's why I picked Auburn. It was just a feeling I got."
Auburn's 1984 signing class would also include Aundray Bruce, Ron Stallworth, Walter Reeves and Rodney Garner, who was Georgia's defensive line coach from 1998 through the 2012 regular season.
By his redshirt senior season in 1988, Rocker was joined on Auburn's defensive front by Stallworth, Benji Roland and younger brother David Rocker. The Tigers won a second consecutive SEC title that season behind a defense that allowed 79 points, including 43 in seven league games, and an average of 218.1 yards a game.
"We tried hard to get Tracy Rocker, no question about that," former Georgia coach Vince Dooley said. "I can remember sitting in the gym next to him and feeling like we were doing OK, but then he made the decision to go to Auburn. We hated to lose him.
"He was good and was definitely an example of the old saying, 'It's what's up front that counts.' That's where Auburn was really strong, and Rocker was kind of the mainstay of that group."
Georgia was one of the more slightly successful opponents in '88, managing 236 yards in a 20-10 loss at Auburn, but the Bulldogs were in a stretch of losing seven times in eight years to Dye's Tigers.
Rocker won the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award as a senior with the Tigers, who earned a Sugar Bowl trip against Florida State. Richt was a volunteer offensive assistant for the Seminoles, who secured a 13-7 win in New Orleans when Deion Sanders intercepted a Reggie Slack pass to Freddy Weygand in the end zone with five seconds remaining.
"I remember the game, and I remember the Deion pick at the end," Richt said. "It was also the last game I coached before I went to East Carolina, so it was kind of a bittersweet day. I don't remember much about Tracy, to be honest, because I was responsible for the perimeter back then."
Richt went to East Carolina for just one season before returning to Florida State as a full-time assistant, while Rocker was drafted in the third round by the Washington Redskins and played two NFL seasons before eventually turning to a career in coaching.
At Georgia, Rocker will be Richt's first defensive line coach with the responsibility of four positions.
"Philosophically we're going to change a little bit," Richt said. "Where our D-line coach has coached the front three, we're going to make it more of a front-four situation. What we have been calling that Will [or weakside] linebacker position has really been an outside rush guy. Sometimes that guy will drop, but for the most part he's rushing.
"It's very natural for Coach Rocker to take on that fourth guy, and it made a lot of sense for us."
Georgia ran a 4-3 defense in Richt's first nine seasons, with Garner having the title of defensive line coach but with Jon Fabris having the responsibility of the defensive ends. When Todd Grantham replaced Willie Martinez as coordinator following the 2009 season and implemented the 3-4, Garner had the three defensive line positions.
Rocker has coached in the SEC with Arkansas and Ole Miss and returned to his alma mater, helping the Tigers win the 2010 national championship, before leaving for a three-year stint with the Tennessee Titans. He is now at his fourth league locale and the closest to where he grew up.
"I never thought I would be here, but I'm here and I'm proud to be here," Rocker said. "I have a lot of respect for the University of Georgia, and I grew up as a Georgia fan. I watched them win the  national championship, and I know the history and tradition of this place, and I clearly understand it.
"I'm glad to be a part of it."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.