Temple's Geoff Collins: Always a coach in the making

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New Temple football coach Geoff Collins at the Edberg Olson football complex on Feb. 6, 2017.

Walk into Geoff Collins' office, and, as with most football coaches, there are photos. But there is one that catches the eye immediately from the nomadic journey he took before he was named Temple's head coach in December.

There is a photo of Albright College's 1997 Middle Atlantic Conference champions, a team picture that Collins brought with him at the seven subsequent stops as an assistant and now his first as a head coach.

That Albright team was special to Collins, who is taking over at Temple for his good friend and former Albright coaching colleague, Matt Rhule, now at Baylor.

Albright was an early stop for Collins but one that he said helped launch his career path that led to Temple.

Collins began coaching in 1993 when he spent two seasons as a student assistant at his alma mater, Western Carolina. He then spent one year as a high school assistant before being named linebackers coach for a season at Fordham in 1996.

After that season, he was named defensive coordinator at Albright.

"Two of my favorite years were at Albright College," Collins said in a recent interview in his new office. At Albright, it was his first job as a defensive coordinator, a position he held the last two seasons at the University of Florida.

And while he says he loved every place he has coached in college since his time at Albright - Georgia Tech (for two different stints), a return to Western Carolina, Alabama, Central Florida, Florida International, Mississippi State, and then Florida - his time at the Division III school remains dear to his heart.

One of the reasons for that is the relationships he has built, and they provide insight into the type of coach Collins has become. Sure, he's tough, self-assured and demanding. But he said he's also a relationship builder who hasn't forgotten the players who helped him along the way.

Especially at Albright.

"I have coached some great players, loved every one of them, but there was something about the way I related to those Albright players that was special," said Collins, who will turn 46 on April 10. "And that is why everywhere I have gone, the [photo] has come with me, because those relationships that have lasted 19, 20 years are very special."

One of his top players at Albright was defensive back Bob Maro, who still holds the school record with 23 interceptions.

"He came in, and we went from a defense that ran a couple of things to one that had a playbook that was so thick I didn't know how I would learn it," said Maro, who is an attorney living in Collegeville.

And while Collins gets close to his players, he wasn't afraid to dispense discipline, which Maro found out firsthand. After Maro and two teammates broke a team rule, they were forced to run what is known as the roller coaster.

It included running, running and more running, leaving Maro and his friends on the brink of exhaustion.

"That was the first of a kind discipline [under Collins], and I don't think anybody did anything wrong after that," Maro recalled. "We gained a lot of respect for him after that happened, and we realized if we messed up we would be punished."

Maro visited Collins last season at Florida, attending a game against Missouri.

"I have five kids, and he gave us a tour of the place. We were on the field. It was top-notch," Maro said. "He has always stayed grounded and true to his players."

It was also at Albright that Collins realized how much he enjoyed recruiting, a part of the job that many of his peers do not embrace.

"That first year at Albright, we signed 82 kids, and I was responsible for 45 of them," Collins said. "It was there I really learned how to relate to different people from different areas, and those two years were invaluable to my coaching career."

Hooked as a youngster

Collins was born in Decatur, Ga., and while in middle school he moved to Conyers, less than an hour from Atlanta. He fit the profile of many future coaches, an overachieving player who got every ounce out of his ability.

Collins loved playing, but coaching always appealed to him. As a high school senior, he read the book Pressure by former Cleveland Browns coach Sam Rutigliano. Like the Albright photo, this book is in his office at Temple. Among other things, the book provided insight into life as a head coach in the NFL.

Collins couldn't read it fast enough.

"Most people would read the title of that book and say they don't want any part of the profession, but I just loved it, loved everything about the process, the mentality of being a head football coach," he said.

At that time, he was a player at Rockdale Country High in Georgia. Not surprisingly, he was like a coach on the field.

"Geoff was an excellent high school player who didn't have the most ability but had the biggest heart," said Jeff Beggs, his high school coach. "He really played hard, worked hard, just soaked up the knowledge and what it took, film study and those kinds of things, and used it to his advantage to be the best high school player he could be."

Collins was a walk-on at Western Carolina who played cornerback and special teams as a freshman and earned a scholarship leading into his sophomore season.

He started at safety as a sophomore.

"After that season I saw the coaching staff was trying to outrecruit me, so I got a little bigger and became an outside linebacker," he said.

As a junior, after starting at outside linebacker, he again felt the staff was trying to recruit better players at his position, so he gained more weight and started at inside linebacker as a senior.

"He was probably undersized, but the thing that gave him a chance was his attitude, the way he played the game," said Morris Starr, who was Western Carolina's linebackers coach during Collins' senior year. "He was a student of the game who understood where he needed to be, and his effort was always great."

His production wasn't bad, either. Collins finished with 194 career tackles, but he knew his limitations, meaning that there would be no dreams of the NFL, the CFL or any pro league. Still, Collins knew he wanted to stay in the game.

"I loved everything about college football, the process, the camaraderie, the away trips," he said.

Yes, even the eight-hour bus rides were something savored by Collins.

"Being with my guys on the bus, getting ready to play somebody else, that was really something," he said.

Another break

After Albright, he got his first job at a Football Bowl Subdivision school, serving two years as a graduate assistant and another as tight ends coach at Georgia Tech under head coach George O'Leary, who became a major Collins mentor.

"Even as a [graduate assistant], he had the right personality, good rapport with the people he dealt with and was very good with the players," O'Leary said.

In 2008-09, Collins reunited with O'Leary, who was then the head coach at Central Florida. Collins served as the linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator.

"George O'Leary was one of the biggest influences on me and somebody who played a big part of who I am as a coach to this day," Collins said "He gave me my first Division I full-time opportunity."

And now he has his first head-coaching opportunity, and Collins, who, along with wife Jennifer, has an infant daughter, can't wait to wake up every day.

He has enjoyed meeting the people in the Philadelphia area and getting to know the players he inherited and the others he recruited and has a zest for his new surroundings and job.

Most of all, Collins has built lifelong friendships with each step along the way. Through the years, he has inspired loyalty with legions of players. He wants that to continue at Temple. And he wants to win.

"He was always an upbeat guy and very positive," O'Leary said, "and I could see when I interviewed him that winning was important to him."

mnarducci@phillynews.com

@sjnard

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