- As Geoff Collins enters his first head-coaching job at Temple, he's bringing influence from Nick Saban, Dan Mullen and Jim McElwain on how to coach, how to recruit and, of course, how to have swag.
PHILADELPHIA — New Temple coach Geoff Collins grabs his keychain, pushes a button that resembles a car alarm and his office door swings shut. He stole the automatic door opener idea from former boss Nick Saban, and it’s one of the small signs of a new era of Temple football here.
After back-to-back 10-win seasons under former coach Matt Rhule, Collins’s tenure at Temple promises both similar philosophies and an open door to unique twists. Collins and Rhule are close friends, stemming from working together at Albright College in Reading, Pa., in 1998. “The common thread with me and Matt most is we care about people,” says Collins. “We want to see people succeed, we’re positive, we coach hard, but even though we coach hard, people know we’re doing it because we want what’s best for them.”
Collins has worked for everyone from Saban to Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen to Florida’s Jim McElwain, and along the way he developed his own high-energy style. Just peek at the Swag Chalice behind his desk, a staff position called S.W.A.G. Coordinator and plenty of “green lightning” stocked in the fridge. (That’s his term of endearment for Diet Mountain Dew.) Collins’s arrival has spiked the caffeine levels in Philadelphia, and he shared his thoughts on how to utilize that energy to continue the winning ways at Temple.
SI: I see that sweet bedazzled Swag Chalice behind you desk. I recall the one you had at Mississippi State. How do you transfer over that tradition?
Geoff Collins: I don’t. It’s just something people find out and they want to create one for me. The strength coaches did, and they have Swag Chalices as well. They created one for me and themselves. It started back in Starkville, when one of the strength coaches, Brady Collins [no relation], every day after practice he’d make smoothies. They would make me a mango smoothie that was ridiculous, and one day I said I need a better cup and something that’s branding. I said I need a Swag Chalice, or something off the cuff. And he created one that was just ridiculous, and I got my Swag Chalice.
SI: My spies who have worked with you told me to ask how many Diet Mountain Dews you drink a day.
Collins: When I first hit the job, I was up to probably eight to ten minimum daily, and this is way too many. I was sleeping four hours a night, so I started drinking these things [points to natural drinks in his refrigerator]. I don’t know if they’re in the [beverage] contract we’re using now. But they still have 90 caffeine units in them. But it’s mostly water. It’s all natural. Still got a healthy dose in here. So now I drink eight to ten of those.
I don’t know if the cumulative effect is any better, but the green lightning intake has reduced and whatever those things are called have gone through the roof. We had a huge party at my house Saturday night for all the staff and administration and academic people and the dude that was running the drink service at the party pulled me aside and showed me two cases of Diet Mountain Dew. I’m like, “I’m trying to slow down.” The reputation precedes me.
SI: It seems you started a new Temple Tough tradition here of not wearing socks?
Collins: I was at Florida, and Jim McElwain didn’t wear socks. I started not wearing socks, so I got caught on campus in eight-degree weather on a local Philadelphia TV show, and I wasn’t wearing socks. They made a huge deal about it. So I have to be Temple Tough now. So if I go to wearing socks because it’s cold, then I’m soft, and I’m not going to be soft.
SI: So walk me back to 1998 when you were the defensive coordinator at Albright College and Matt Rhule was the linebacker coach.
Collins: It was his first job, my first coordinator job, so we just had an absolute blast. Every cool thing we ever thought of to do, we did. Some of my best memories are from there at Albright College. Sean Padden who is now Matt’s director of operations at Baylor, was the D-line coach, Matt was linebackers coach, I was the defensive coordinator, DBs coach. We had an absolute blast and we’re still close. Four of those [Albright] guys were at the Temple spring game. Matt was awesome even from a young age.
SI: You had said you were a huge Temple fan for almost a decade because of your long-time friendship with Matt. Did you lean on him a lot before taking this job?
Collins: Yes, 100%. And I had known for four years, and being an SEC coordinator and having some success, this was a job I was interested in. I’m from Atlanta, consider myself a city person, so living in the fourth-largest media market in the country was very appealing to me, and having such close relationships—I always tell people, some of the favorite kids I ever coached have been from this area. I’ve loved all of them, but the makeup of the kids from this area—they’re tough, they’re physical, they earn everything they get, they work for it—that was very appealing to me and I knew the culture Matt had created here and really had been created for 10 years [under Al Golden and Steve Addazio] is in line with who I am. I knew that transition was going to be smooth, and I’m having exit meetings with the players and they’re amazed with how seamless the transition has been.
SI: I’m going to ask you a little bit about all your influences because you’ve worked for a diverse crop of head coaches. You were with Nick Saban his first year at Alabama. What did you take from that?
Collins: Being able to be one-on-one with Nick Saban on a daily basis is invaluable to my career. The other nice thing is I got to be behind the curtain, so to say. There would be defensive meetings that I was privy to sit in on, then we’d break and have meetings and it’d be me and coach Saban. We’d be talking about the roster, talking about recruiting, recruiting strategy, things we’re going to be doing, practice planning, all the things that as a coordinator/position coach, you don’t have access to Nick Saban in that manner. I was able to go, and it’s me and him talking about real-life issues that impact Alabama football. It was at the start of the social media age, so Myspace was the deal. Then the next year was when Facebook went from being just college to global, and we were all out in front of that. Helping [Saban] transition into the social media age was awesome for me and being able to be there, on the ground Day 1. Being able to be with him Day 1 on a daily basis and really seeing not just how he works defensively, but to be in the global meetings and seeing how his mind works and I loved it. I think he’s brilliant, how he holds people accountable, sets responsibilities, sets roles and defines them, and people go and do their job. He’s brilliant.
SI: Give me a few specifics you learned from Nick.
Collins: The opponent and scoreboard don’t matter. He talks about that all the time. You have to get better at what you do on a daily basis, doesn’t matter what your role is. Accept personal responsibility for your own self-determination. He says that all the time. And so every day, you come into this building as a player or a coach, you have a responsibility to do your job and to accept that responsibility and to be driven and motivated to do it. We have a pyramid I made, we probably have seven or eight years ago just a philosophical pyramid of what I believe in as a coach, and those are two of the top tenets and those are directly from him. There’s a ton more I say on a daily basis, but those are two that are forefront.
SI: What did you take from working with George O’Leary?
Collins: The big thing, just work ethic and attention to detail. There’s not one single thing that happened in the football program that he missed. So you had to be on your toes, be accountable, know what you were doing and follow through on every little detail. It might be a staple in the right place on something you stapled for him, whether the corner of the tape where you posted something on the wall, every single thing mattered. I have a case of OCD, and he added a bunch of OCD tendencies to me. Just the attention to detail, I take it as a source of a pride that I was a GA for him and he promoted me to full-time coach. So I must’ve been doing something halfway decent, and I carried that with me.
SI: What about Mario Cristobal at FIU?
Collins: Passion, energy. I thought he was a great coach for the coordinators. He was a really good coach. He assured he managed the things that needed to be managed, provided resources, was a great recruiter to provide you, make sure you had the players. And you were freed up as a coordinator to game plan, to scheme, to call the game, because you had the resources in place to be successful.
SI: Dan Mullen at Mississippi State?
Collins: From the Day 1 when they stepped on campus to the time they left, everything was geared toward the development of the player. The work ethic, the toughness, athletic ability, fundamentals, technique, all was in line to improve on a daily basis. I think this place is a developmental program, so I take pride in that. I actually had a team meeting today, and I talked about Dak Prescott and Benardrick McKinney, two guys now starting at a high level in the NFL, and how they developed and why. What was their mindset? What were the steps? We’re using those things here.
SI: Quick sidebar: What’s your favorite Dak story? You were there when Mississippi State went to No. 1 in 2014.
Collins: In the off-season, we would have these very intense workouts on certain Fridays, big special workouts and some days there’d be three of them. Thirty kids in one session, 30 in another and then 30 kids in another. Dak always made sure he came to the first one and he would kill the workout, work harder than anybody. Just destroy the workout. After the workout we would break it down, 29 kids would leave, Dak would stay and go to the next workout and would be in there encouraging, pushing, motivating. Wouldn’t do the entire workout physically but would go and motivate this group. Those 30 kids would break it down, go to class, and Dak would go to the next workout and would do every workout with every kid. The thing I talk about when referring to him is how everything he did, he was all in, and that’s what we try to impress upon our football players. How you do in the classroom is how you’re going to do on the football field. How you do in off-season conditioning is how you’re going to do on the football field. How you do anything is how you’ll do everything.
SI: What about Jim McElwain about Florida (other than not wearing socks)?
Collins: Coach Mac was the best thing to happen for me preparing to be a head coach. I've been blessed to be around some legendary head coaches, and I’ve seen a lot of times guys try to become those coaches when they get their shot as a head guy. Coach Mac showed me that you can and should be yourself when you're the head coach. I've been able to use the great things I've learned from the coaches I've been around, but I've done it being true to my personality and have had an absolute blast doing it.
SI: I can’t leave here without asking you about the position you created—S.W.A.G. Coordinator? Give me some insight into Dave Gerson and his job as Specialist With Advanced Graphics.
Collins: He loves it. He’s a huge Temple fan his entire life. He used to have his own YouTube shows when he was 8 or 9 years old. I get here and I kinda notice a couple graphics near his work station, and I’m like make me this, and it was 10 times better than I’d even asked. I kept asking, and he just kept outperforming with the graphics stuff. And that’s how college football recruiting is going. Everyone has a multimedia coordinator. When I went to Georgia Tech, I had been a full-time coach, coordinator, and I got to be an off-the-field coach. I was like, ‘What title could I have that would translate to the NFL?’ Nobody in college football had this title, but they did in the NFL, director of player personnel. Now that’s the standard title in college football, and I was the first one to have that title.
Titles, to me, are important. Anybody can be social media coordinator. You can be the Specialist With Advanced Graphics, and we’ll call you the S.W.A.G. Coordinator. It ended up being a national story, and it couldn’t happen to a better kid and he just consistently keeps outperforming. He has the least swag of anybody with that title. But he’s an unbelievable kid, he taught himself Photoshop. He figured it out because he loves Temple football, Temple University and he’s special.
SI: You’ve given a lot of credit to Nadia Harvin, your administrative specialist, for helping you adjust. It’s hard to believe that she’s worked in football at Temple for more than 20 years. What’s she meant?
Collins: She’s been wonderful. She’s been here for a long time, even though she looks very young. She knows everybody, and everybody loves and respects her. She’s just a joy to come to work and see everyday, and her connection with both the former players and everyone on campus in invaluable. She has just been amazing.
SI: Temple’s tradition of giving its toughest players a single-digit number is one of the coolest in college football. Do you plan on keeping it?
Collins: That’s something that has been here for 10 years, that predates to coach Golden. As I learned about the Temple story following it, that was something that resonated with me. I wore No. 5 in college, consider myself to be single-digit tough. I was a walk-on, but that was something I always thought was the greatest thing ever. It’s important to me to be able to wear a single-digit in college. But then you look at a program like Temple, you only get it if you’re the toughest, bring it every single day. All the things that matter to me. You see them getting rewarded, and there’s nothing better than seeing two defensive tackles with single digits. The first single digit I awarded was No. 5 to senior receiver Keith Kirkwood. Another tenet we use is practice is everything. Practice matters. Some kids say, “I’m a gamer.” Whatever. We talk about practice. Practice is everything. Off-season conditioning is everything. So a lot of people would want to wait until the preseason to award the single digit, and what you’re saying is your performance on the field is what matters. Well we’re saying how tough you are in the weight room, how hard you work in the off-season, your leadership, that matters. We awarded No. 2 to Delvon Randall the night before the spring game. We put together cool graphics with the single-digit number legacy that predated them. The kids love it. It’s a big deal.