AP source: Florida hires Mississippi State's Collins as DC

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) New Florida coach Jim McElwain made his first official hire Tuesday.

McElwain named Mississippi State's Geoff Collins his defensive coordinator. Collins replaces D.J. Durkin, who will serve as Florida's interim head coach for the Birmingham Bowl.

Collins helped turn Mississippi State into one of the nation's top defenses. The Bulldogs rank 10th in scoring defense, allowing 19.4 points a game, and lead the country in red-zone defense.

''His defenses have been successful everywhere he has been,'' McElwain said. ''It was important to maintain some of the same philosophies and concepts that have made the defenses around here successful with this hire and our players will continue to progress under his direction.''

Collins was a recent nominee for the Broyles Award, given annually to the nation's top assistant coach.

The 43-year-old Collins began his coaching career as a graduate assistant in 1993 at Western Carolina, his alma mater. He also spent time at Franklin (N.C.) High School, Albright College, Georgia Tech, Alabama, UCF and Florida International. His big break came in 2007, when he served as Nick Saban's director of player personnel at Alabama.

That's where he crossed paths with McElwain, who was Saban's offensive coordinator between 2008 and 2011.

Collins joined Mississippi State in 2011 as co-defensive coordinator and was in full charge of the defense the past two seasons. In his first season, the Bulldogs ranked in the top five in the Southeastern Conference in total defense, rushing defense and passing defense.

Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen said he was pleased with what Collins accomplished in Starkville while running the ''psycho'' defensive scheme.

''Whoever the D-coordinator is here, we're going to play that great defense,'' Mullen said.

Mullen also took what seemed to be a veiled shot at Collins for leaving for the same position at Florida, saying ''I hope our guys have opportunities to go be head coaches more than leaving for lateral positions. But I think with success, hopefully we do have guys get opportunities to be head coaches.''

Florida's defense was one of the nation's best under former coach Will Muschamp. The Gators ranked eighth in total defense in 2011, fifth in 2012 and eighth last year. They rank 20th this season.

Muschamp had similar success on that side of the ball at LSU, Auburn and Texas. It's the main reason why Auburn gave Muschamp a three-year contract last week worth about $1.6 million annually.

McElwain wants to keep things rolling on defense.

Many thought he would try to retain Durkin for continuity, but he opted to go in a different direction.

''Coach Durkin will continue to coach the team through the bowl game,'' McElwain said. ''I have the utmost respect for his professionalism and have full confidence in his abilities to lead and coach the team.''

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