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Tracy Rocker out as Associate Head Coach, defensive line coach. Where does Smart look for a replacement?

Tennessee Titans 2011 Headshots Photo by NFL via Getty Images

The University has confirmed that Tracy Rocker will not be returning in 2017 as associate head coach and defensive line coach. The former Auburn All-American and Outland Trophy winner joined outside linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer as one of only two holdovers from the Mark Richt era. Rocker came to Athens from the NFL, where he had spent three years as the defensive line coach for the Tennessee Titans.

Rocker oversaw the recruitment and development of Trenton Thompson and DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle at defensive tackle under Coach Richt. He then oversaw the recruiting of one of the most talented defensive line classes in recent UGA history in 2016, with most of those freshmen playing significant minutes and occasionally starting during the 2016 season. Georgia’s run defense ranked fourth in the SEC in year one under Smart and Tucker and returns its key components in 2017.

Rocker’s UGA contract paid him $525,000 per year, fourth highest among Red and Black assistants behind only coordinators Mel Tucker and Jim Chaney and offensive line coach Sam Pittman. The full circumstances of Rocker’s departure aren’t yet clear, but it is known that some programs have put out feelers to him in the past. Rocker is known as an exceptional position coach. But he’s also run point on the recruitment of a couple of bigtime instate defensive linemen over the past couple of cycles that didn’t go well for the ‘Dawgs, most recently that of Lee County five star Aubrey Solomon (who ultimately signed with Michigan).

It’s obviously very premature to speculate on who might replace Rocker in the Classic City. One name that comes immediately to mind is Alabama outside linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi. He coached defensive lines at Washington and Cal, and is known as a fantastic recruiter.

If Lupoi were interested in joining the exodus currently underway from Tuscaloosa Georgia could do much worse. Alabama could certainly match anything Georgia offered salary-wise. A larger question may be whether Lupoi has a good relationship with Jeremy Pruitt, which I have no insight on. Lupoi did leave Washington following allegations that he paid for tutoring services for a recruit, but the NCAA investigated and never took action on the allegations against either Washington or Lupoi.

Another name likely to come up is that of Florida defensive line coach Chris Rumph, who served in the same capacity at Alabama from 2011 through 2013 with great success. His successor at Alabama, Bo Davis, recently worked for the Jacksonville Jaguars after exiting Tuscaloosa under NCAA investigation. Duke defensive line coach Ben Albert has experience working with Mel Tucker in the NFL and is also a name to keep an eye on. Albert previously coached several overachieving defensive fronts at Boston College.

We’ll have more on this story as it develops.