ATHENS - Tracy Rocker's name and image is on Auburn's stadium in the form of a large picture. He was a star player at his alma mater, and an assistant coach there the last time Auburn won a national championship, just four years ago.
But if facing his former team for the first time since then is a big deal to Rocker, he hasn't said anything to his players, or his boss.
“He doesn’t even bring that stuff up," Georgia senior defensive tackle Mike Thornton said this week. "He doesn’t boast or brag about it at all, or the fact that we’re playing his team. He just wants to get us in the best position that we can be to win this game.”
Rocker also wasn't eager to talk about it with the media this week. He declined interview requests through a team spokesman, although for that matter so did every Georgia assistant coach this week. Rocker also hasn't been available to the media for about two months.
While Rocker may downplay his college exploits, his players are still curious about them.
The SEC Network was recently showing the 1988 LSU-Auburn game, so Thornton made a point of watching it and studying how Rocker played.
“I definitely sent him a picture of himself on the TV,” Thornton said. “He was like a man amongst boys, just a strong, fast guy. Just getting off blocks and dominating.”
Back in January, when he was hired as Georgia's defensive line coach, Rocker marveled at how things had basically come full circle: He grew up in Atlanta, but when he went to Auburn, he embarked on a playing and coaching career outside his home state. After a brief NFL career he went on to coach at West Alabama, Troy State, Cincinnati, Ole Miss, Arkansas and then Auburn. After three years coaching in the NFL for the Tennessee Titans, he was hired at Georgia.
"It's amazing how things start working out," Rocker said. "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 didn't do so bad himself at Auburn. He was a two-time All-American, the SEC player of the year in 1988 and won the Outland and Lombardi trophies. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2004.
This is the second straight year that the defensive line coach has been a familiar face to the other program. Auburn's Rodney Garner was in his first year back at his alma mater last year, after 15 years coaching Georgia's line. Garner will coach again at Sanford Stadium on Saturday for the first time since he left.
“It’s very weird," Thornton said. "I never expected (Rocker) to show up at Georgia while I was here. I never expected coach Garner to leave while I was here. But it’s a blessing. It’s a blessing for him to come in and give me an opportunity to play ball again.”
Head coach Mark Richt said he hadn't brought up the Auburn angle with Rocker.
“I really don’t get too much into the emotional part, (by asking): How much does this game mean to you, Rock?” Richt said, with a laugh. “But I’m sure it means a lot to him.”