Rocker Gets Big-Time Coaching Start At Troy

FAYETTEVILLE — The way Troy University coach Larry Blakeney sees it, Tracy Rocker's wife will always have a soft spot in her heart for him.

After all, it was Blakeney who took a chance and gave Rocker his first big-time college coaching job 10 years ago.

But even more than that, Blakeney got Rocker and his wife, Lalitha, out of tiny Livingston, Ala.

Before he was hired as Troy's defensive line coach in 1997, Rocker spent three years as an assistant at the University of West Alabama. It was not the ideal place for a young couple to live.

"Well, I got him out of bondage," Blakeney said. "He was in West Alabama. Have you ever been to Livingston, Ala.?

"His wife still loves me for hiring him out of there."

Rocker, now in his fifth year as Arkansas' defensive line coach, still considers Blakeney a mentor who helped shape his views on how a college football coach should act.

The two men first met when Rocker was a star defensive tackle at Auburn, and Blakeney was the Tigers' wide receivers coach and offensive play-caller in the late 1980s.

Blakeney later taught Rocker how to be a college football coach. And when the time came for Rocker to apply for a job on Houston Nutt's staff with the Razorbacks, it was Blakeney who put in a good recommendation for him.

Rocker and Blakeney will reunite again at 6 p.m. Saturday when Arkansas opens the season against Troy in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

"I know one thing, when I went to work for coach Blakeney and I took on that job, he told me, ‘I have a lot of confidence in you and I figure I'll get paid back in 10 fold,'" Rocker said.

"I always remember that about him, but I enjoyed working for him. I got to learn. He let me be a coach, and I could see him act as a coach and learn from him."

Rocker proved to be a good hire for Blakeney.

During his five years with the Trojans (1997-2001), Rocker had an ability to take defensive linemen who were mostly overlooked coming out of high school and turn them into star players.

One player, in particular, was DeMarcus Ware.

When Rocker helped recruit him to play for Troy, Ware was just a 6-foot-4 teenager who liked to play football. But that was about it.

Ware developed into the 11th overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. The Dallas Cowboys linebacker made his first Pro Bowl appearance this past season.

"Going to Troy, it gave me a sense of confidence, a sense of learning about football and becoming a real college coach," Rocker said.

"It wasn't a place where we had everything. It was a place where you learned how to coach (and) make things work."

While at Troy, Rocker also coached Al Lucas, who received the 1999 Buck Buchanan Award, given each year to the top defensive player in NCAA Division I-AA.

At Arkansas, Rocker has shown that same ability to coach up unheralded defensive linemen, evident by defensive end Jamaal Anderson's development. He was the eighth overall pick in the most recent NFL Draft.

"I knew he was the right kind of guy (for the job), and he wanted to move up," Blakeney said. "We were his first step on that climb, and he's continued to move on up the ladder every move he's made all the way to Arkansas."

Rocker left Troy after the 2001 season to be the defensive line coach at the University of Cincinnati. He stayed there for one year before going to Arkansas.

"When I came here and I started working for Coach Nutt, I felt like I was working for two of the same people," Rocker said, referring to Blakeney. "That's been my enjoyment. I work for guys that are player coaches."

And as somewhat of an expert on Troy football, Rocker knows what the Razorbacks can expect in the season opener.

"I have a lot of respect for them because I know how hard they play," Rocker said. "That's the thing that is always in the back of my mind about them."

Tracy Rocker

Age: 41

Education: Auburn University - B.S. in family and child development (1992)

Position: Arkansas defensive line coach

Playing experience: Auburn (defensive tackle, 1985-88)

Coaching experience: Auburn (Ala.) High School (defensive coordinator, 1992-93); University of West Alabama (defensive line coach, 1994-96); Troy University (defensive line coach, 1997-2001); University of Cincinnati (defensive line coach, 2002); Arkansas (defensive line coach, 2003-Present).

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